DHS, HHS earn kudos for transparency

Two of the federal government’s traditionally closed-off agencies became more transparent and performance-based last year, according to a report issued today.  

In the ninth annual report released by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, researchers found that the Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments focused on outcome-oriented goals, objectives and measures in fiscal year 2007.

Jerry Ellig, a senior research fellow with the Center’s Government Accountability Project and primary author on the report, said the report's authors were surprised at the departments' performances. The authors said in the past large-spending agencies such as DHS and HHS could not be transparent with their goals, but they had made large improvements .

“If we had to give an award for this [improvement], it would be the ‘Mercatus eats crow’ award,” Ellig said.

The latest scorecard coincides with the fifteenth anniversary of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. The law requires 24 cabinet and large independent agencies to submit 25-page reports that define agency goals and give an outline of how and what the agency is doing to achieve them.

Mercatus analyzes and scores those agencies based upon the agencies' reports concerning the transparency of reporting, how the public could benefit from agency goals and how leaders use performance data to improve their work. The center then scores agencies on of a scale of 60 points.

The DHS and HHS reports scored 37 points. The two agencies ranked fifth highest in the scorecard in a three-way tie that also included the Commerce Department.

Conversely, three other agencies had rankings drops. The scores for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development fell by double-digit figures from fiscal 2006. The report's authors attributed this decline to a shared strategic plan for 2007-2012, which includes less specific goals than in years past.

The Defense Department also received a mere 17 points, the lowest ranked report in all of the Mercatus reports. The report authors attribute this to bad planning; DOD failed to post its report – which barely contained performance information – on its web site by the Office of Management and Budget-specified deadline.

The top three, highest-scoring agencies did not change from last year: the Labor Department, Veteran’s Affairs Department and Transportation Department. Transportation set a new high score with 55 points, up two points from last year.

On average, the government’s average score dropped by 5 percent from 2006.

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