OMB to take PART deeper

Bush advisers vow to review program scores when making budget decisions for 2008

OMB’s program evaluations

Although the Office of Management and Budget’s Program Assessment Rating Tool has had minimal effect on agencies’ program budgets in the past five years, that’s about to change. OMB officials say they plan to look at PART evaluations during their fiscal 2008 budget negotiations with Congress.

PART ratings will be a major factor in helping lawmakers make objective funding decisions this year, said Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management. “We devote a lot of energy to validating PART,” he said.

Lawmakers are beginning to share OMB’s enthusiasm for the assessment tool.

“PART should be made permanent because you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” said John Hart, a spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who is a vocal proponent of PART and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security Subcommittee.

Hart said Coburn expects to work with the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), to introduce a bill that would make PART permanent.

“PART is an important tool that promotes transparency and holds agencies accountable,” Hart said. “We should not pay for programs that don’t work.”

Jonathan Breul, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government, said PART makes it harder for Congress to ignore programs that aren’t working.

“A lot of these questions have been asked for decades but usually by OMB budget examiners and behind closed doors,” said Breul, who was senior adviser to Johnson before leaving OMB to join IBM. “PART makes it much easier to communicate the good and bad of programs.”

OMB’s efforts to educate lawmakers and federal officials about PART’s value in assessing government programs was a recurring theme at a June meeting in Washington sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Council for Excellence in Government. The meeting brought together budget directors and other officials from more than 20 countries to exchange ideas about measuring government results.

“As diverse as we are, our challenges are quite similar,” Johnson said. “We have agreed from the outset that most elected officials and government [apparatuses] are set up to deal with policy and spending levels, and this is a great opportunity to spend time on what we are getting from the money we are spending.” 

Participants heard from representatives of several countries that are implementing performance measures. “The most important thing we have focused on is how we can have the most effective evaluations of spending programs,” said Ian Watt, secretary of Australia’s Finance and Administration Department.

Linking budgets to program evaluations raises the stakes and puts additional pressure on OMB to get PART right, Johnson said. “We must find better metrics to measure performance, and our ability to measure program performance improves every year,” he added.
PART is an international languageOffice of Management and Budget officials heard a number of suggestions for improving their Program Assessment Rating Tool at a recent international meeting of budget officials from more than 20 countries.

Robert Shea, OMB’s associate deputy director of management, said he was impressed with Canada’s decision to create an independent organization to validate its performance metrics. 

Shea said another interesting idea came from South Korea, whose officials said they cut the budgets of ineffective projects by 10 percent. In addition, Chile gives government employees a 2.5 percent to 5 percent pay raise if they achieve a majority of their public service goals.

Jason Miller

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