Linking performance goals to budgets won't be easy, experts say

Resistance from congressional staff members is a major impediment to the idea of linking agencies' funding with performance goals, according to two experts on federal management. The Bush administration has put agencies on notice that it plans to require specific linkages between program funding and performance goals in the administration's fiscal 2003 budget. In a new PricewaterhouseCoopers report, "Memos to the President: Management Advice from the Nation's Top Public Administrators," Rockefeller Institute scholars Dall Forsythe and Richard Nathan surveyed the obstacles to full implementation of the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act.

While the Results Act calls for pilot projects in performance budgeting, agencies have been slow to link their spending decisions with performance goals. But congressional staffers fear that broader use of performance budgeting techniques would disrupt the traditional budget process, the scholars reported. "[Congressional staff] worry that changing familiar account structures to clarify linkages to performance data will disrupt negotiating routines of members and interest groups," wrote Forsythe and Nathan. Linking performance with funding could also spur conflict among stakeholders who disagree with agencies' performance goals. The performance targets of the Forest Service, for example, are bound to cause disagreement between timber interests and advocates of conservation, said the scholars. If such targets were tied to funding, congressional staff members fear the budget process would be subject to more delays, they wrote. The Office of Management and Budget has pledged to write performance goals into agencies' budgets in the fiscal 2003 budget cycle. "Across the board, standardized performance linkages to the budget is what we intend to assure in fiscal year 2003," said OMB Deputy Director Sean O'Keefe in a recent interview. Forsythe and Nathan provided recommendations for how the new administration can make performance budgeting work. In the wake of past failed budget systems such as zero-based budgeting, OMB career officials will be slow to warm to new budgeting schemes, they predicted. The Bush team must marshall OMB behind the new technique for it to succeed, they said. The authors also urged the Bush administration to develop performance measures for federally funded programs that are carried out by state and local governments. This would enable better management of programs ranging from welfare delivery to urban construction projects, they said. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report features additional memos from public administration experts on a wide variety of management reform issues. The experts called for wide-ranging civil service reform and urged the administration to use the Results Act as a tool to bolster federal management.