February 9, 2004

February 9, 2004 | WebMemo on Federal Budget

"PART" of the Solution: The Performance Assessment Ratings Tool

Released in concert with the President's budget proposal, the second set of Performance Assessment Ratings Tool (PART) marks are now available. The President's budget proposes that twenty programs either be eliminated or have their budgets significantly reduced because of low PART scores. While there is still great room for improvement, this first step is a good sign that the administration is starting to take public accountability of government spending seriously.

 

Finding Waste

PART, commissioned in 2002 and produced by the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), assesses the purpose, planning, management, and accountability of individual government agencies. Based on an agency's response to the PART questionnaire, OMB evaluators grade its programs as "effective," "moderately effective," "adequate," "ineffective," or "results not demonstrated." "Results not demonstrated" indicates that are no objective criteria in place to measure the program's effectiveness; a failing that the PART evaluation process seeks to remedy.

 

To this point 399 programs-representing nearly half of the federal budget-have received PART scores. One hundred and forty-seven of these have been rated "results not demonstrated." Of the remainder, most have received poor marks. While the OMB judges the 232 programs with scores of above 50 percent to be "adequate" or better, the raw scoring isn't nearly so rosy:

 

PART Score # of Programs Grade Equivalent
90% - 100% 20 programs A
80% - 90% 56 programs B
70% - 80% 70 programs C
60% - 70% 47 programs D
50% - 60% 39 programs F
0% - 50% 20 programs "F-"

 

As the table above demonstrates, if these scores were children's grades, 59 programs would be flunking. Programs that have not yet received a grade may be struggling undetected, but by the spring of 2007, when PART's first 5-year cycle concludes, the entire federal government will have been rated.

 

The PART score is a very effective tool to identify which programs should have their budgets pared. While nearly every politician rails against "waste, fraud, and abuse" in government, it can be difficult to identify such spending items. PART points out where the waste is. Politicians can cut the failing or mistargeted programs knowing that they are cutting fat from the federal ledger.

 

The Ineffective

Programs graded by PART to be "ineffective," that is, those scoring under 50 percent, epitomize "wasteful federal spending." While the President's budget cuts some of these programs, it deals leniently with others: fewer than half face cuts and, overall, only 6 percent less money is budgeted to them - still $17.3 billion in total. This may be the beginning of accountability for federal programs, but in this time of record spending more forceful action may be in order. Ninety percent of the federal government performed better than these "ineffective" agencies. If the budget needs tightening, this is the place to do it.

 

Table: Ineffective programs

 

The Ill-Conceived

Another place to find candidates for cuts is among those programs that have a "Purpose and Design" score of less than 50 percent. Such a score indicates that a program possesses three of the following five faults:

  • The program lacks clear purpose;
  • The program does not address any specific need;
  • The program is redundant;
  • The program has a major flaw in design; and
  • The program fails to reach its target audience.

 

These programs, no matter how effectively managed or held accountable to standards, cannot be effective because they are ill-conceived. One example of this sort of program is the Advanced Technology Program (ATP). Although this program has good planning, capable management, and decent results, it only benefits wealthy corporations who could-and do, in other circumstances-fund their research without government money.[1] The President advocates terminating ATP in his 2005 budget proposal.

 

Still, the President's budget actually proposes that the government spend more on similarly challenged programs. Much of that increase comes from the mandatory spending for Veterans Administration disability compensation.[2] Under the President's budget, discretionary spending on purposeless programs would decline by 11 percent-from $15.4 billion to $13.8 billion-but there is room for much more to be cut.

 

Table: Programs without a purpose

 

Many Opportunities

The PART program could be a great aide to those trying to trim the federal budget. Although the tool is only two years old and has yet to address half of the federal government, it has already identified many targets for cuts. Taken together, its lists of ineffective and ill-conceived programs show many opportunities for the President and Congress to cut spending based on a systematic analysis using objective criteria.

 

While the President deserves praise for cutting programs poorly ranked by PART from his 2005 budget proposal, much remains to be done. If the administration and Congress are serious about holding the line on spending, cutting more of these programs would be a great place to start.

 

Keith Miller is Research Assistant in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, and Alison Acosta Fraser is Director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.



[1] For more on ATP, see Brian M. Riedl, "The Advanced Technology Program: Time to End this Corporate Welfare Handout," http://www.heritage.org/Research/Budget/bg1665.cfm.

[2] Since World War II, no study has been completed to determine appropriate levels of disability compensation. This lack of accountability is the main reason the PART score was so low. For more information see the VA chapter in the President's 2005 Budget, http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2005/va.html.

 

About the Author

Alison Acosta Fraser Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs
Domestic and Economic Policy