Bush codifies program improvement

New executive order institutionalizes PART and sets up formal accountability processes

The Bush administration has spent more than four years trying to improve agency performance. Its efforts have attracted the interest of lawmakers, but Congress has not acted to ensure that the current approach to management continues after the president leaves office. So President Bush sidestepped Congress by issuing an executive order that formalizes the administration’s Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) methodology and adds bite to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993. Under the executive order issued Nov. 13, the Office of Management and Budget will hold agency leaders and managers accountable for program results and require them to use PART to account for program performance, said Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at OMB. “Managing performance should be as formal a process as managing information, as managing our finances and our acquisitions,” he said. The agency chief must approve program performance goals, plans for accomplishing them and approaches to measure them, something GPRA never called for, Johnson said. GPRA established a requirement for reporting, but the executive order requires agencies to use that data to improve their performance, said Marcus Peacock, deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency. “That is a big difference,” he said. “You can require agencies to report, but unless that information is used for something, I’m not sure what good the information is.” The order builds on PART, which program managers use to measure how well they have met their goals. GPRA measures performance at a high level, and PART assesses at the program level, said Kathie Olsen, deputy director at the National Science Foundation. The order calls for creating the position of agency performance improvement officer to oversee performance goals. That person most likely would be a career employee. If not, a career person must be in place to carry on the work when administrations change, said Robert Shea, OMB’s associate director of administration and government performance. Agency performance improvement officers would work together in a newly established governmentwide Performance Improvement Council to exchange information and monitor agencies’ progress. By the end of 2008, Johnson said, he expects that all federal programs and Government Accountability Office high-risk-list programs will have reassessed goals and metrics and the council and agency processes will be in place.

Taking PART too far?

Office of Management and Budget officials say they are pleased to see congressional interest in the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) as a way to determine the success of agency projects.

But Robert Shea, who leads the PART effort and is OMB’s associate director of administration and government performance, said one senator may be taking it too far.

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) introduced an amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services and Related Agencies appropriations bill that would cut 10 percent for every program rated ineffective, Shea said.

“We encourage Congress to use PART, but this is a crude way to do it,” he added.

After Allard’s third attempt to include the provision failed, he promised to introduce the amendment to other spending bills, said Steve Wymer, Allard’s spokesman.

“It is irresponsible to talk about the need to be fiscally responsible and then not have some accountability when it comes to spending on programs,” Wymer said. “Congress needs to recognize the results of PART and send a message.”

— Mary Mosquera





















News Editor Jason Miller contributed to this report.  
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