Senator calls health care reform ‘mother of all implementation challenges’

Mark Warner heads a Senate task force on government performance. Mark Warner heads a Senate task force on government performance. Charles Dharapak/AP

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., warned federal managers on Monday that implementing health care reform and getting it right will be "the mother of all implementation challenges." The effort will be even harder than getting the $737 billion in stimulus funds out the door rapidly, he said.

"It will be the great challenge for this federal government over the next five to 10 years," Warner said during a keynote address at Government Executive's Excellence in Government conference.

Warner will be monitoring the health care overhaul carefully in his role as the head of the Senate Budget Committee's Task Force on Government Performance. He said that since being named to the position he has trolled through the many ways agencies measure program performance and determined they "haven't gotten it right."

But in the current fiscal environment, performance measurement is more important than ever. "At every level of government for the foreseeable future, we will have to do more with less," Warner said.

To ensure major programs are working and new programs start off on the right foot, Warner said he wants to work with federal managers to ensure that performance measurement is more than just a reporting exercise, that benchmarks are relevant to them and that decision-makers stick to their budgets.

Both the Obama and Bush George W. Bush administrations have targeted wasteful and redundant programs for elimination with extremely mixed results. Warner said the task force will go after the programs both administrations recommended be cut and require those programs defend their value to the taxpayers.

And as the task force looks into program performance, it also will be encouraging agencies to develop substantive benchmarks that go beyond the bounds of programs or even agencies.

"The reporting we have that is agency by agency or program by program makes absolutely no sense when you're trying to map out a policy goal on training a workforce for the 21st century or making sure our food is safe no matter its country of origin," Warner said.

Warner said he sympathized with complaints that performance management programs tend to be scrapped and completely revamped every four or eight years as administrations turnover. Making Congress a partner in performance management not only will make measures more meaningful, particularly in the budget process, but also will help ensure consistency across presidential administrations, he said.

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