Performance Budgeting:

PART Focuses Attention on Program Performance, but More Can Be Done to Engage Congress

GAO-06-28: Published: Oct 28, 2005. Publicly Released: Oct 28, 2005.

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GAO was asked to examine (1) the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) and agency perspectives on the effects that the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) recommendations are having on agency operations and program results; (2) OMB's leadership in ensuring a complementary relationship between the PART and the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA); and (3) steps OMB has taken to involve Congress in the PART process. To do this, we also followed up on issues raised in our January 2004 report on the PART.

The PART process has aided OMB's oversight of agencies, focused agencies' efforts to improve program management, and created or enhanced an evaluation culture within agencies. Although the PART has enhanced the focus on performance, the PART remains a labor-intensive process at OMB and agencies. Most PART recommendations are focused on improving outcome measures and data collection, and are not designed to result in observable short-term performance improvements. Since these necessary first steps on the path to long-term program improvement do not usually lead to improved short-term results, there is limited evidence to date of the PART's influence on outcome-based program results. Moreover, as of February 2005--the date of the most recent available OMB data--the majority of follow-on actions have not yet been fully implemented. By design OMB has not prioritized them within or among agencies. Because OMB has chosen to assess nearly all federal programs, OMB and agency resources are diffused across multiple areas instead of concentrated on those areas of highest priority both within agencies and across the federal government. This strategy is likely to lengthen the time it will take to observe measurable change compared with a more strategic approach. OMB has used the PART as a framework for several crosscutting reviews, but these have not always included all relevant tools, such as tax expenditures, that contribute to related goals. Greater focus on selecting related programs and activities for concurrent review would improve their usefulness. OMB has taken some steps to clarify the PART-GPRA relationship but many agencies still struggle to balance the differing needs of the budget and planning processes and their various stakeholders. Unresolved tensions between GPRA and the PART can result in conflicting ideas about what to measure and how to measure it. Finally, we remain concerned that the focus of agencies' strategic planning continues to shift from long-term goal setting to short-term executive budget and planning needs. OMB uses a variety of methods to communicate PART results, but congressional committee staff we spoke with had concerns about the tool itself, how programs were defined, and the usefulness of goals and measures. Most said that the PART would more likely inform their deliberations if OMB consulted them early on regarding the selection and timing of programs; the methodology and evidence to be used; and how PART information can be communicated and presented to best meet their needs. It is also important that Congress take full advantage of the benefits arising from the executive reform agenda. While Congress has a number of opportunities to provide its perspective on specific performance issues and performance goals, opportunities also exist for Congress to enhance its institutional focus to enable a more systematic assessment of key programs and performance goals.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's work suggesting the need for a more robust Congressional strategy for indicating its performance priorities and using performance information in its deliberations, the House Budget Committee included in the FY 2009 Congressional Budget Resolution a requirement that all committees include recommendations for improved governmental performance in their annual "views and estimates." In response, Committees indeed indicated their performance priorities and have held hearings on these areas.

    Matter: To facilitate an understanding of congressional priorities and concerns, Congress may wish to consider the need for a strategy that includes (1) establishing a vehicle for communicating performance goals and measures for key congressional priorities and concerns; (2) developing a more structured oversight agenda to permit a more coordinated congressional perspective on crosscutting programs and policies; and (3) using such an agenda to inform its authorization, oversight, and appropriations processes.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As we said in our October 2005 report on the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), most Congressional staff we spoke with still report a lack of up-front consultation about PART. In response to our recommendations, OMB sent a letter to the Chairs and Ranking Members of key Congressional committees informing them about PART. It also indicated that OMB asked all executive branch agencies to schedule meetings with each committee's staff to explore ways that PART information could prove valuable to them. It invited them to provide feedback on individual PARTs and recommend ways to improve programs. Earlier, in June 2005, the Administration has introduced The Government Reorganization and Program Performance Improvement Act of 2005 (GRPPI). Under GRPPI, a sunset commission would submit to the Congress for its approval a proposed schedule for reviewing the performance of, and need for, Executive Branch agencies and programs at least once every 10 years. Lastly, OMB now requires agencies to brief authorizing and appropriations committees in advance of submitting their congressional budget justifications on concluded and planned PART assessments and their inclusion in the budget justification materials; OMB also considers this outreach when assigning quarterly "grades" for the budget and performance integration initiative of the President's management Agenda.

    Recommendation: The Director of OMB should seek input from congressional committees on the performance information they find useful and how that information could best be presented to them.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As we said in our October 2005 report on the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), most Congressional staff we spoke with still report a lack of up-front consultation about PART. Consistent with the spirit of our recommendation, in June 2005, the Administration has introduced The Government Reorganization and Program Performance Improvement Act of 2005 (GRPPI). Under GRPPI, a sunset commission would submit to the Congress for its approval a proposed schedule for reviewing the performance of, and need for, Executive Branch agencies and programs at least once every 10 years. More recently, OMB required all executive branch agencies to schedule meetings with the appropriate Congressional committees to explore ways that PART information could prove valuable to them. In response to GAO's recommendations, OMB also requires agencies to brief authorizing and appropriations committees in advance of submitting their congressional budget justifications on concluded and planned PART assessments and their inclusion in the budget justification materials; OMB also considers this outreach when assigning quarterly "grades" for the budget and performance integration initiative of the President's management Agenda.

    Recommendation: The Director of OMB should ensure that congressional leadership and key committees are given an opportunity to provide input early in the PART process on the performance issues and program areas they consider to be the most important and in need of review.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB confirmed that GAO's work on program assessment significantly informed its new policies and guidance on reassessing program performance. In its June 2009 guidance to agencies on preparing their FY 2011 budget submissions and performance plans, OMB noted the importance of refocusing resources on the highest national priorities. To that end, it refocused its program assessment efforts and directed agencies to identify a limited number of high-priority performance goals and begin to define the strategies and means to achieve them. OMB noted that these goals should generally target challenges that cut across multiple agencies and should consider input from Congressional authorizers and appropriators. The guidance specifically required agencies to identify related programs within and outside of the agency that are integral to or may affect achieving the goal. The President also increased funding for program evaluations, noting that when there are many programs that target similar issues and have similar goals, rigorous evaluations can answer questions about which programs have the greatest impact. Building on these steps, in June 2010 OMB issued Fiscal Year 2012 budget formulation guidance, that directs agencies to include in their budget submissions, where appropriate, an analysis of how to better integrate key tax and spending policies with similar objectives and goals.

    Recommendation: The Director of OMB should target individual programs to be reassessed based on factors such as the relative priorities, costs, and risks associated with clusters of related programs, and in a way that reflects the congressional input described above.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

 

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