Platts pushes 5-year assessments

A House lawmaker today introduced legislation to require evaluations of federal programs at least once every five years.

Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Efficiency and Financial Management Subcommittee, introduced the bill as an amendment to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993. The bill, the Program Assessment and Results (PAR) Act, builds on the framework for measuring program performance laid out in GPRA by codifying the requirement for program review.

"It's about taking GPRA to the next level," Platts said. "The benefit of putting it in statute is that it's a more certain process year in and year out. Statute makes it permanent and sends a message across the board that this is something we are going to be doing and let's embrace it."

Although programs are currently evaluated using the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), the bill stops short of mandating the method for evaluating the programs.

"Unless we take an empirical, systematic look at programs, the results they produce and the way they are managed, we will never know whether we are meeting goals or providing services to the public in the most effective way possible," Platts said in a statement.

Under GPRA, agencies must focus on program evaluations in their strategic plans and reviews are recommended, but unlike PAR, GPRA doesn't require the Office of Management and Budget to review the programs. In an upcoming General Accounting Office report, officials identified program evaluation as the one area where agencies lacked governmentwide consistency, Platts said.

"The next logical step is to codify the requirement for a coordinated, evidence-based review of programs," he said.

PART, intended to complement GPRA, has been used for two budget cycles, evaluating 234 programs in fiscal 2004 and an additional 175 programs in fiscal 2005. The plan is to assess an additional 2 percent of programs each year until all are evaluated.

PAR would mandate that programs be evaluated every five years, or more often if they are determined to be a high priority or improvements have been made.

In hearings this month before the subcommittee examining PART, OMB's deputy director for management, Clay Johnson, told lawmakers that the tool is evolving and may not even be called PART in coming years. Lawmakers should codify the idea, not the particular tool, Johnson said.

The act also would direct OMB's director to develop criteria for identifying the program activities to be reviewed each year, "taking into account the advantages of reviewing the same fiscal year any program activities that are performing similar functions and have similar purposes," the bill states. OMB officials have said that by looking at common programs, officials can seek out best practices from successful programs and improve performance.

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