HEADLINE: HEARING OF THE GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY AND FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE
SUBJECT: SHOULD WE PART WAYS WITH GPRA?
CHAIRED BY: REPRESENTATIVE TODD RUSSELL PLATTS (R-PA)
LOCATION: 2247 RAYBURN HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.
PAUL POSNER, DIRECTOR, STRATEGIC ISSUES, GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE;
JONATHAN BREUL, SENIOR FELLOW, IBM CENTER FOR THE BUSINESS OF GOVERNMENT;
MAURICE MCTIGUE, DIRECTOR, GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT, MERCATUS CENTER, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY
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REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): Thank you so much. I think we all were wondering how those appropriators do it. Let me just follow along with that. You know, I'm always amazed with these discussions that we have that it has taken this long for accountability to be an issue.
And I am always reminded when we are talking about PART and GPRA of a response that was made shortly after I came to this committee and we had a hearing, and someone from an agency when I inquired about a timeline said, oh, we don't have a timeline for the project, we have a continuing appropriation. And how offended I was, on behalf of my constituents, that they felt that way, because I do think that effectiveness and efficiency and accountability are very important. And I thank each of you for the information pertaining to that that you bring to us.
One question that has come that I was sitting here thinking on and kind of following my colleague's remarks here, when you're looking at PART and GPRA and you're looking at the performance based initiatives and performance based budgeting, how beneficial would it be to incorporate a zero based budgeting exercise with the agencies as they go through building this budget? If they're going to use PART and access that data as a ratings tool and Mr. McTigue, as you're talking about their outcomes and the delivery that they have the benefit, if they went back to zero? And as we talk about moving the budget process to something that is an equitable deliverable for the taxpayers, as if we go back and move away from baseline into more of a zero based format.
Mr. Posner, we'll just go straight down the line.
MR. POSNER: I think that conceptually, the PART in fact is very much inline with the zero based concept. Because what we're saying is, we're not just budgeting on the margins, we're not talking about increments of five up or down. What we're taking is the whole program by its roots and we're saying how well is it doing, what kind of administration and cost structure does it have and what we're getting for results. So the conceptual basis of PART supports a more, whether you call it zero base or reexamination of the base kind of process, and that's got to be a fundamental part going forward when we look at the long term fiscal challenges we face of structuring them.
Now, having said that, what we learn-one of the things we learn from the last zero based budgeting exercise, if you try to do everything you're going to completely exhaust the system and it will fall of its own weight. And that's one of the reasons we had in mind for our recommendation here that we're concerned about the goal of 100 percent coverage of the PART. And re-PARTing programs on top of new programs, I think not only does it burden analytic resources at OMB and the agencies but, frankly, it doesn't focus decision makers as much as they need to be focused. In other words, if you could think about related groups of programs like the key to the authorization cycle up here, that we're going to do a sunset review of these and we're going to have PART, you know, be kind of geared to supporting a congressional reauthorization process, that's the kind of thing that might be more targeted and get more attention.
REP. BLACKBURN: Okay, thank you, sir.
MR. BREUL: Yes, the two points you bring up about looking at the base and this has a virtue of ensuring that no program's going to escape this analysis, and that you look at the entire set of resources being allocated. And the PART and GRPA are an invitation to do that. They are useful tools to do that, the scores for example, are not a score that looks at just the marginal dollars put into a program, but relate to the entire program's administration and the entire set of results that are being achieved.
The workload problem is a serious one and that's indeed why the administration chose to do 20 percent of the programs a year. To put every program all at once through such a review would have just overwhelmed everyone, and that's why I think there's quite a bit of virtue of moving through on a 20 percent a year basis to cover all makes sure no program escapes this kind of review, but that you do it in increments that are manageable. But that analysis that's coming up now and the ratings are not as if they're focused on the marginal delta of the budget-additional budget resources, but look at the entire programs. So it's an invitation for the appropriators to take that analysis and make those judgments. Whether they choose to do so is what we'll be seeing this season.
MR. McTIGUE: In my view, speaking both from a theoretic point of view and also from a practical experience, I think there's a slightly different way of approaching your problem, which I think is likely to be even more successful. If Congress and administrations were to say to agencies we're going to fund five million people moving from illiteracy to literacy this year, and then you had a variety of different programs that were contesting for the pool of money to do that, I think you would get exactly what you're talking about now. A review on the basis of which are the most effective mechanisms that we have to move people from an illiterate state to a literate state.
If you did exactly the same with long term unemployed people, said that we're going to fund five million long-term unemployed people back into employable skills and into work, then you would look at a range of programs that were likely to be effective at doing that and you would have a contest for the dollars. And in those circumstances you don't have to have the same rigor, because what you're really doing is you are moving to a purchase of things of value and away from an allocation of money. Governments have traditionally allocated monies to activities without too much of a focus on what we get in return.
To answer one of Mr. Towns' questions from before, the difference in this process in my view is this, that it focuses on an outcome that is determined as a public benefit. The previous procedures have tended to focus on results that might be you served this number of people, whether you cured their problems or not was not a factor in the equation. With this process, you're talking about curing the problem at the same time. If it's about hunger, it's moving people off the lists of being hungry, it's not just feeding them every day. So, outcomes I think are one of the important ingredients and that that outcome is clearly defined as a public benefit, and then you are able to say to different programs, we cannot afford to give away the public benefit of funding you, when somebody else is getting twice as many people into literate states.
REP. BLACKBURN: Thank you.