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Don’t Follow Congress’ Disinterest in Budget Performance

By Victor Joecks
for Evergreen Freedom Foundation

July 14, 2006

Frustrated with the aimless spending of Congressional Republicans, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) recently held a hearing where he questioned why Congress continues to fund agencies rated by the Office of Management and Budget as "ineffective" or "results not demonstrated." Wanting to avoid that question entirely, on June 13, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Subcommittee voted to prohibit performance measures for the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services.

Unfortunately, this rejection of accountability crosses state and party lines. In Washington, the Democratic-controlled legislature has yet to pass a budget detailing performance expectations and neither did Republican lawmakers when they had majorities.

Successful businesses and individuals use performance measures to gauge success. Consider baseball. You know that Mariner right fielder Ichiro is one of the best hitters in the world. But how do you know?

Because you can compare his batting average, a baseball-specific performance measure, to other Major League players and find out that his batting average is one of the highest. How do we know that Washington's Medicaid program is doing a good job providing health care to the poor? Without performance measures, we don't.

Imagine the outrage if the Mariners announced that they were not going to use performance measures like batting average or RBIs in selecting free agents. Without objective criteria, the M's could just as readily sign a minor leaguer as an all-star.

Unfortunately this scenario is exactly what is happening in Olympia. Although we can all agree that the education of our children, roads, health care for the poor, and emergency preparedness are more important than baseball, lawmakers are not budgeting in a manner focused on measuring results in these areas.

Though agencies provide state budget writers with their mission statements, goals, and performance indicators, when the Legislature passes the state's budget, it simply appropriates money to each agency. Performance measures are not included in final budget legislation.

Performance measurements allow citizens and legislators to objectively evaluate an agency's performance and adjust funding accordingly. The alternative is to continue funding an agency in areas where they fail to provide what they promise—such as schools that give high school diplomas to kids who must enroll in remedial college classes.

Baseball fans may disagree about what the most important measure of a hitter is (Homeruns or Batting Average), but all fans would tell you that performance measures are essential in making that determination. Similarly, Democrats and Republicans may disagree about what measurement is most important, but they should be united in recognizing that performance measures are needed and implementing them.

If our current crop of politicians doesn't understand that, voters should elect people who do. It's our money they're spending and we deserve to know what we are getting for our investments.

Additional Information
Autopilot Budgeting: Will Congress Ever Respond to Government Performance Data?
Next step in priority-based budgeting

Victor Joecks is a policy analyst for EFF’s Economic Policy Center and Voter Integrity Project. He holds a B.S. in Math and History from Hillsdale College in Michigan. While at Hillsdale, Victor excelled on the school’s debate team winning numerous tournaments. Victor also served as President of Hillsdale’s Student Federation.


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