Council asks for tweak of OMB tool

Performance Measurement Advisory Council

Based on the recommendations of an outside advisory council, the Office of Management and Budget will consider major changes to a tool the administration will use to assess the performance of government programs.

Several members of the Performance Measurement Advisory Council, which held its first meeting late last month, recommended splitting information provided by the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) into two pieces, one for Congress and the public and another for OMB and the agencies.

PART grades agency performance based on how officials answer a series of yes-or-no questions about the outcomes of their programs. As currently conceived, the tool weighs scores in four areas — relevancy to mission, management practices, planning practices and program results — to come up with the final grade.

But council members argue that OMB should score program results separately from the other three factors, because program results are what most interests people outside the agencies and OMB.

The management questions are important because they support and influence the results, said Harry Hatry, a member of the council and director of the public management program at the Urban Institute. "They all contribute to better results and better outcomes."

Although some members of Congress and the public are interested in back-end management issues, most want to know what the results are, not the process by which an agency achieved those results, Hatry said.

OMB Director Mitchell Daniels Jr. agreed. The other areas are important to creating a good program, but they are more process-oriented, he said.

Suggested changes also included rephrasing questions, asking for additional supporting evidence on answers and clarifying the tool's link to the Government Performance and Results Act.

The advisory council, which OMB established last month, is composed of a group of independent experts whose primary task is to help refine PART, which is expected to play a significant role in OMB's budget recommendations and is crucial to the President's Management Agenda's budget and performance integration.

The administration plans to publish the results as part of the annual budget, and OMB is working with Congress to encourage the appropriations committees to take the information into consideration during their deliberations.

Other governments are further along with incorporating performance in budget decisions, but OMB's approach may be the most comprehensive and challenging, said William Eggers, a member of the council, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and former manager of the Texas Performance Review.

OMB tested PART during the annual spring review of agencies' budgets. Using the lessons learned and comments from Congress, agency inspectors general and other groups, OMB came up with several areas for improvement, said Tom Reilly, co-chairman of the Performance Evaluation Team, a group that OMB assembled internally to create the tool.

The administration included its first program performance assessments in the fiscal 2003 budget submitted to Congress last February, but those were done in an ad hoc manner with no common strategy, said Marcus Peacock, a leader on the Performance Evaluation Team. Now, "we're very interested in putting together a robust, transparent process."

OMB plans to release PART by mid-July so that agencies and budget examiners can use it while developing fiscal 2004 budget requests. Peacock cautioned that it is important to understand that "there's not a direct connection between the rating and what might happen with the budget of the program."

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