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The Five Initatives


Implementing the Performance Assessment Rating Tool

The goal of the Budget and Performance Integration Initiative is to ensure that we have good information on the results we are achieving for the $2 trillion we spend on about 1000 different programs. Today, program performance measures are often unclear and self-serving. When programs are actually measured, there is more often than not no connection between performance data and budget decisions. This is the way we're operated for hundreds of years, and change is hard. We are making progress.

The Veterans Affairs Administration has submitted a completely restructured budget with accounts aligned with their programs. The submission shows how the old account structure transforms into the new. It also shows how each account in the new structure contributes to the Department's strategic goals and objectives. VA has consulted with the Hill on these changes, and will make them in the 2004 Budget database. The Department is continuing work to define program activities, measure full cost, and improve presentation for 2005.

The Department of Labor has come in with a "performance budget," structured according to their strategic goals and outcome goals, providing performance measures and targets for each, and discussing means and strategies for achieving them. DoL has calculated the total resources used for each activity and shows how much comes from the activity's appropriation and how much from other sources.

Many other agencies are also working to present their budgets with performance information integrated throughout them. Our focus in the last few months, however, has been on implementing the new Performance Assessment Rating Tool or "PART." The PART is a questionnaire that systematically measures the extent to which federal programs (1) have good performance measures, (2) are collecting performance data, and (3) are meeting performance goals. The PART can help us decide what changes may need to be made to improve what the public gets from federal programs. It will lead to a government that is more results-oriented.

The rubber is hitting the road now. We have draft PART questionnaires filled out for about 20 percent of all federal programs and we are starting to see where some programs are weak. We are using this information to put together the FY 2004 budget.

One thing we see is that many programs need to develop clear outcome-oriented performance measures. Until such measures are in place, no one can tell if a program is performing well or not. For some programs this discovery is leading to meaningful, and sometimes passionate, discussions regarding what the program is all about. For instance should a math education grant program be measured by how fast it gets grants out the door, or by how it eventually improves student math skills? Similarly, should a job training program be measured by how many people it trains or how many actually get jobs. Our focus should be on measuring the things that the public cares about. We recognize that measuring performance, particularly outcomes, is difficult in many cases. These are necessary discussions - some of these issues have been overlooked for years.

Not surprisingly, we are finding the performance of some programs is limited by factors outside of the program's control such as restrictions in statute or the behavior of partners such as states or local governments. For instance, authorizing legislation may identify so many priorities that they compete with each other, presenting challenges to program implementation. Some block grant programs give states wide discretion on how they spend their funds, making identifying and measuring intended outcomes difficult. The PART is helping us identify where changes may need to be made in law or agreements in order to significantly improve program performance.

We are also learning a lot about the PART. It is the first time we are using this tool. While it appears adequate to do the job, it will need to be improved. For instance, the tool is good at measuring the status of identifying, using, and achieving results, but is less sensitive to measuring progress. This may provide inadequate incentives to program officials who are working hard to get results but have a long way to go before they actually start achieving outcomes through no fault of their own.

Finally, there is some anxiety that the PART findings will be used by political partisans to attack the Administration -- that constructive self-criticism will be unfairly turned against the President. Here is what the President has said, "There comes a time when every program must be judged either a success or a failure. Where we find success, we should repeat it, share it, and make it the standard. And where we find failure, we must call it by its name. Government action that fails in its purpose must be reformed or ended." This is the first time an Administration is systematically judging each federal program and using this information to improve results. Change will only come about if this effort is credible: if we call'em the way we see'em.

Yours truly,

Marcus Peacock

The Five Initatives:
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