Manager: PART demands more from federal programs

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Undergoing an Office of Management and Budget program assessment was not pleasant, but it forces managers to determine their programs’ direction, a federal program manager said today.

Elizabeth Cotsworth, director of the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air at the Environmental Protection Agency, said OMB’s Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) caused her to refine the program. It now has goals stretching as far as 2012, she said.

“It was not an enjoyable experience,” Cotsworth said. However, “the process was useful.”

Cotsworth was a member of a panel discussion at the Excellence in Government conference in Washington, D.C., which focused on issues related to the PART program.

PART evaluates programs to determine if they have clear purposes and goals and whether they meet those goals. The assessment asks questions to find programs’ strengths and weaknesses so agencies can improve them. The results factor into the president’s decisions about which programs should receive more or less funding in his budget proposal.

OMB has assessed 80 percent of federal programs, with the remaining 20 percent scheduled for assessment this year.

PART evaluations have brought together different sectors of the same agency, said panelist Cheryl Oros, director of the Office of Planning, Analysis and Evaluation at the National Institutes of Health’s Center for Scientific Review.

An agency’s budget office, its internal program evaluators and strategy teams review the same programs, but in the past, “nobody talked to each other,” she said.

However, the tool does have its faults, the panelists said. As the government becomes increasingly complex, programs often cut across agency lines, but PART reviews them in single pieces, Oros said.

Cotsworth said PART's questions can be generic, especially for unique programs like one focusing on indoor air. Moreover, the scoring can hinder programs that have few measurable short-term results.

When facing a PART review, panelist Get Moy, director of installations requirements and management at the Defense Department, said agencies shouldn’t fear the OMB examiner.

“The examiner is really not out to get you in regard to PART,” Moy said, adding later, “Don’t look at the OMB examiner as an enemy.”

Instead, he suggested asking the examiner for tips on improving the program’s score.

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