OMB pinched in program reviews

IGnet

The Office of Management and Budget is facing a resource problem as it heads into the second round of program performance evaluations and may have to essentially outsource some of the reviews to agency inspectors general, officials said March 3.

Last month, The White House released with the fiscal 2004 budget the results of the first set of evaluations using OMB's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART). That set represented 20 percent of federal programs. They were evaluated for effectiveness with the understanding that there would be follow-up evaluations to see if performance improved.

OMB plans to review another 20 percent for the fiscal 2005 budget and continue increasing the number of reviews annually until every program is being evaluated. However, the agency is recognizing that it may not have the in-house resources to make that possible.

"That's always been the expectation; now we're faced with the reality of doing that," said Reid Cramer, a member of the task force that developed PART. He was speaking March 3 at the third and final meeting of the Performance Measurement Advisory Council, which was established specifically to help OMB develop and use the tool.

The follow-up reviews are an integral piece of PART and must be done to ensure that performance is improved and the evaluation becomes institutionalized within the government, said council member Donald Kettl, a professor of public affairs and political science at the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Council member Joseph Wright Jr., who was a deputy director at OMB during the Reagan administration, suggested that OMB rely on the agency inspectors general, working through the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which essentially is the inspectors general council.

"If you meaningfully expand this, OMB cannot do the job," but the inspectors general and their staffs could perform the follow-up evaluations, following OMB's lead with the initial reviews, Wright said.

OMB has been discussing PART's usefulness with agencies and is actively seeking comment from them and the public. A list of questions and an e-mail address (performance@omb.eop.gov) were included in the fiscal 2004 budget documents. Comments are due by March 17.

OMB also is performing an internal assessment to gauge its employees' opinions, and one of the biggest questions they are facing is how to handle the increased workload from the evaluations, Cramer said.

OMB had considered that in the past, but now that officials are truly addressing the resource problem, the idea is worth another look, council members and Cramer agreed.

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