OMB releases first federal program inventory

Although hailed as a good step for transparency, the catalog of programs falls short of what some advocates say is needed.

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The first online catalog of federal programs falls short in the eyes of some. (Stock image)

The government published an online catalog of federal programs on the Performance.gov website on May 31, as mandated by a law designed to streamline government performance.

The inventory does not offer a total number of federal programs -- something that government performance critics such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have frequently sought. It doesn't define what constitutes a federal program, nor does it provide the information in a uniform fashion.

Federal Program Inventory

Federal Program Inventory

The single-page Web document links to resources on the sites of each of the 15 Cabinet-level agencies, plus the General Services Administration, NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Small Business Administration, the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Some of the agencies present the information as a Web page and some as a PDF that can be read online, while others link to agency Web pages that contain links to files and a few links spawn downloads of PDF files.

Some agencies disclose the number of their programs in the introduction to their inventories. Others don't provide a topline number but make it possible for a reader to count the programs. And still others catalog their programs in the context of strategic goals or budget accounts, making it tricky to arrive at a firm total for the number of programs.

For an administration that has broken new ground in the use of online media, it is an uncharacteristically sprawling and inconsistent document.

Nevertheless, the initial effort won praise from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who sponsored the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act, which mandated the inventory.

"We are finally getting the data we need to make a careful review of the structure of federal programs across the government to help inform decision-making in Congress," he said. "Identifying the programs at each agency is critical to making sure we reduce the amount of duplication, improve efficiencies and ensure that programs with similar missions work together across agency silos."

The legislation requires agencies to establish the posts of chief operating officer and performance improvement officer with an eye to identifying redundant and duplicative government programs.

The Government Transformation Initiative -- a coalition of corporations, nonprofit organizations and others interested in contributing to the improvement and fiscal sustainability of government -- applauded the effort but said more needed to be done to ensure that the government was operating as efficiently as possible.

"OMB's efforts serve to demonstrate the need for an independent task force or commission to make specific and actionable recommendations to improve the economy, efficiency, effectiveness and credibility of the federal government," said David Walker, GTI's chairman and former U.S. comptroller general, in a statement.

The Office of Management and Budget plans to improve the quality of the information in the 2014 version of the catalog by centralizing the information on the Performance.gov site and adding more program definitions and information.

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