White House takes PART in performance

The Bush administration has a new tool for measuring how well agencies and their programs are performing. Administration officials used the new Program Assessment Rating Tool, or PART, during 2004 budget process to review about 234, or 20 percent, of federal programs, according to budget documents.

Officials will review another 20 percent each year so that, by 2008, all government programs will have been evaluated.

The process, unveiled with the 2004 budget request, puts the burden of proving a program effective on the shoulders of its managers.

"This is the first year in which what I would call a serious attempt has been made to evaluate impartially, on an ideology-free basis, what works and what doesn't," said Mitchell Daniels, director of the Office of Management and Budget. "Trillions of federal dollars have been spent each year without much of any attention to what works well and what doesn't. This president pledged to do something about that. This is the first step toward that."

The evaluation has about 30 questions that cover four areas of assessment: purpose and design, strategic planning, management, and results and accountability. Questions include:

*Is the program designed to impact the interest, problem or need?

*Are federal managers and program partners (such as contractors) held accountable for cost, schedule and performance results?

*Has the program taken meaningful steps to address its management deficiencies?

Based on the answers, OMB scores programs in the four areas of assessment and also gives programs one of five ratings: effective, moderately effective, adequate, ineffective and results not demonstrated.

Slightly more than half of the programs rated in the 2004 budget received a "results not demonstrated" rating. Of the rest, 6 percent were found effective, 24 percent moderately effective, 14.5 percent adequate, and 5.1 percent ineffective.

The PART analysis for each program describes strengths and weaknesses and what steps the agency will take to improve. For example, the FBI's Cybercrime program was rated results not demonstrated. The program is getting a budget increase to $133 million, from $89 million, consistent with its 100 percent rating in the purpose assessment. However, the PART rating indicates the FBI must set performance goals and hold managers accountable for results.

While the PART and agency business cases for IT investments are not directly linked, good use of IT can drive up the productivity score of PART assessments, said Mark Forman, the administration's top IT official.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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