Online Extra: Mission Control -- Program Assessment Rating Tool can be a matter of common sense

Mission Control: Program Assessment Rating Tool can be a matter of common sense

Bob Deller

In its 2003 budget, the administration indicated how serious it is in improving federal program performance. In the budget submission for 2004, results of a year-long effort to achieve this objective are clearly visible. There has been a major step forward.

Integrating budget and performance, referred to as the fifth element of the President's Management Agenda, is now formally implemented. The Program Assessment Rating Tool is supposed to evaluate a program's purpose and design, planning, management, and results and accountability to determine its overall effectiveness. And it puts teeth in the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act.

The minions of OMB designed PART to determine, through measurable evidence, the strengths and weaknesses of federal programs. And, the serious element of the program is that results are linked with budget justification. Isn't this just a way of codifying common sense?

Some federal managers have pooh-poohed the PART process, prompting the Office of Management and Budget to adjust the tool to be more effective.

None of this activity surprises budget-savvy federal managers. But two elements deserve some focus. One is the serious link with budget requests and funding justification before the Congress. The other is interoperability.

Many agencies deserved - and received - good performance improvement grades through implementing PART.

But half of PART's rating value is dedicated to performance against stated goals. If these goals are limited to specific areas local to the program itself, where are the serious steps in providing integration across different programs that deal with similar issues?

OMB's director, Mitchell Daniels, announced last month ''to ensure the best available information is included in program justifications sent to the Congress, summaries of completed PARTs and their relation to the Administration's proposals should now be incorporated into the rationale for the budget request for all pertinent activities.'

If the government really intends to become more interoperable - considering law enforcement, homeland security and health care - doesn't it seem that somewhere in the PART there is room for interoperability relationships?

OMB is developing an upgraded version of PART. As a matter of common sense, wouldn't government performance improve it there were rewards for becoming more interoperable at the same time?

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