A Look Back at PART (and Prologue?)

From Government Executive, a look back at the Administration’s Performance Assessment Rating Tool (PART):

After more than six years, PART now has evaluated every federal program — more than 1,000 in total — and suggested specific management, legislative or regulatory improvements. When PART began in 2002, 50 percent of all federal programs evaluated could not demonstrate their results and only 6 percent were rated “effective.” Now, nearly 50 percent of all programs are rated as “effective” or “moderately effective” while less than 20 percent are ranked as “results not demonstrated.” The focus of these evaluations also has evolved, [OMB’s former associate director of administration and government performance Robert] Shea said. For example, until recently small business development centers only measured the number of small businesses they counseled or trained. Now the centers look at the number of jobs created. Likewise, community health centers previously measured how many people they provided service to; now the target is health outcomes such as low birth weight in babies. [. . .] Ted Kniker, an executive consultant with the Federal Consulting Group, a franchise operation of the Treasury Department, has been on both sides of the PART assessment. When Kniker worked at the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, his office was assessed several times by the PART; he now advises other agencies on improving their performance. When ECA first was evaluated in 2004, the bulk of its programs received a grade of “results not demonstrated” because its measures were not linked to long-term goals and lacked a clear strategy. Kniker and his colleagues reviewed and refined the measures, hired a performance measurement expert and linked PART to their planning process. ECA now is ranked as 92 percent effective and serves as model for the rest of State, he said. “We had an internal culture change from the normal government processing — ‘move the money out the door and make sure you spend it all before the end of the fiscal year’ — to a focus on results and what it was that we were trying to achieve,” Kniker said during the Cognos forum. “And PART prompted real discussion … about what those results were supposed to be and what those results could be.”

PART may not be perfect, as other experts point out in the article—let’s be real, to say that the federal bureaucracy is unwieldy is an understatement. But just because something is tricky doesn’t mean you don’t keep hammering away. I agree with Paul Light that the next administration shouldn’t ditch it altogether, as has been the trend in recent decades:

If one thing is sure about the future of bureaucratic reform, the next president will sweep away whatever his predecessor has done and develop an entirely new package of change. That’s what President George W. Bush did with Vice President Al Gore’s reinventing government campaign, which now resides in a cyber cemetery at the University of North Texas. It was also what Gore did with President George H. W. Bush’s total quality management initiative, which lingered in name only until his son abolished the remnants of the program in 2001. The private sector knows reforms take years, if not decades to stick, but first-term presidents want the impact to affect their reelection. Congress wants them faster. If a reform yields no results in a year or so, it is back to the drawing board – Gore’s reinventing government program was reinvented three times in six years. The next president would be wise to take more care in drafting his management package. Instead of adding yet another corpse to the body count of forgotten reforms, he should take the best from the past in fashioning a new agenda. At least in federal management reform, there is truly nothing new under the sun, and many old promises merit a second chance. Call it something new – for example, the Streamlining for Performance Initiative – but don’t ignore the past.

For more on PART, check out my recent posts here and here. Reason’s Annual Privatization Report 2008 Reason’s Privatization Research and Commentary

Leonard Gilroy is Senior Managing Director of the Pension Integrity Project at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. The Pension Integrity Project assists policymakers and other stakeholders in designing, analyzing and implementing public sector pension reforms.