OMB: Agencies need better performance data to justify budgets

If agencies want to see programs fully funded, they must start generating better performance data, Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels said Thursday. In the absence of quality data, OMB will view budget requests with a healthy dose of skepticism, he said.

"For far too long the question we seemed to address is 'How much?' not 'How well?'" Daniels told a joint hearing of subcommittees from the House Government Reform and Rules Committees. "It is time to put the burden of proof for spending where it should be-on the proponent of spending."

Starting with the fiscal 2004 budget process, OMB is requiring agencies to come up with better performance data. Through its program assessment rating tool, also known as PART, OMB is grading the effectiveness of more than 200 programs. While the initiative is not the only driver in budget decisions, it will have a significant impact on funding.

Some of the data needed for the assessments are already generated under the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act. But in general, that act has turned into a paperwork exercise and not lived up to its legislative intent of improving performance, Daniels told reporters after testifying.

While supportive of OMB's efforts, Comptroller General David Walker cautioned that initial expectations not be set too high. He called the quality and accuracy of performance data across the government "uneven."

"Credible outcome-based performance information is absolutely critical to foster the kind of debate that is needed," he said, adding that growing pressures on the federal budget during the next 10 years demand that decision-makers take a hard look at all program spending.

Daniels and Walker were quick to point out that Congress has to become an integral part of the process.

"The effectiveness of this endeavor rests on the seriousness in which Congress receives the findings," Daniels said.

Both men said efforts to link performance and the budget will be fruitless if congressional appropriators continue to fund programs year after year without looking at relevant performance data.

Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee agreed, saying lawmakers rarely consider if programs are meeting congressional intent.

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