OMB: Agencies fail to track program results

More than half of 234 federal programs analyzed by the Office of Management and Budget can’t show results for the dollars they spend.

More than half of 234 federal programs analyzed by the Office of Management and Budget can't show results for the dollars they spend. Instead, most agencies gauge their programs by looking at outputs, such as number of people served or quantity of brochures published.

OMB's detailed analysis of federal programs will be published Feb. 3 as a companion to the president's fiscal 2004 budget. The assessments were used as an important factor in setting proposed funding for programs in the budget, OMB officials said. On average, programs deemed effective received a 6 percent funding increase, while those scoring low got less than a 1 percent increase. OMB did not release actual dollar amounts.

The 234 programs assessed, ranging from the Defense Department's Joint Strike Fighter program to tax collection at the Internal Revenue Service, account for nearly $500 billion in annual government spending and represent 20 percent of all federal programs. An additional 20 percent of programs will go through the process in each of the next few years.

By OMB's analysis, 5 percent of the 234 programs rated were ineffective. For another 50 percent, agencies couldn't demonstrate results. Thirty percent of programs were rated as either effective or moderately effective and 14 percent were deemed adequate.

OMB's assessment tool was broken into four parts and looked at program purpose, planning, management and results. Examiners relied on both agency documents and outside reviews to gauge program effectiveness.

"This provides us with much better sources of information for decision making," says Jonathan Breul, a consultant with IBM Global Services and a former senior adviser at OMB, where he was instrumental in implementing the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act. Breul said agencies should take this new assessment seriously and view it as a sign that they have to do a better job of aligning both strategic plans and data they collect under the Results Act with budgets.