Congress hears debate on PART's value

Text of H.R. 5576 appropriations bill

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Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said June 13 that the Office of Management and Budget’s Program Assessment Rating Tool is the government’s most comprehensive review of federal programs available, partially because Congress does not take time to appraise the programs.

“We’re lazy,” Coburn said at his subcommittee’s annual hearing on PART. Coburn is chairman of a Senate subcommittee that oversees federal financial management and government information. This was his 37th hearing on this topic.

Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at OMB, expressed concern that Congress does not care about assessing programs. He said PART presents Congress with an opportunity to challenge programs and clearly define standards for success. Moreover, Congress could hold agencies accountable for meeting that success.

“It’s management 101; it’s accountability 101,” Johnson told the subcommittee.

PART helps to determine if a program works effectively. It finds out if a program has a clear purpose and whether it sets and meets goals. The assessment tool evaluates a program’s strengths and weaknesses so agencies can then improve the programs. PART is one of several ways the president decides to request more or less funding for a program.

Nevertheless, the public and private sectors criticized the Bush administration’s means of analyzing federal programs.

Adam Hughes, director of federal fiscal policy at OMB Watch, said PART is a poor mechanism for measuring programs because it upholds standards that are incompatible with program functions.

“PART assessments are tantamount to a baseball coach walking to the mound to remove his pitcher and then chastising him for not kicking enough field goals as he brings in a reliever,” Hughes said.

He also said OMB uses the rating system to increase the Bush administration’s power. Such assessments are instead one of Congress’ primary responsibilities.

“This is not a power grab by the executive branch,” Johnson said. The administration’s challenge is getting Congress to pay attention to the assessments.

PART criticism comes from the House, too. Within the House Appropriations Committee, Johnson said, “one unelected staff member” stands against PART.

He cited language in the Appropriations Committee's report on the Fiscal 2007 Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, the District of Columbia and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act that states that PART gives redundant information and serves no purpose, especially for justifying budgets.

“It’s inexplicable that language like that is in there,” Johnson said.

The House continues to debate the appropriations bill today.

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