Study: "Performance Budgeting" Under Bush Has Earned Respectable -- Not Rave -- Reviews

(Alexandria, VA) -- After four years of the Bush Administration's "performance budgeting" initiative, one in four federal programs remain unable to demonstrate any concrete results -- just one of many findings in a first-ever study of program assessment data conducted by the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU).

"As the various presidential initiatives of the past 50 years have shown, the concept of performance budgeting is nothing new," said NTU Government Affairs Manager and study author Kristina Rasmussen. "It is one thing to assemble stacks of reports on how programs are faring, but quite another to get results based on those recommendations."

Following just weeks after the White House unveiled its "Expect More" government results website, Rasmussen's analysis examined the Office of Management and Budget's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) data to determine if it has helped to weed out low-priority programs as well as helped other agencies better serve Americans. Among her insights:

  • Between Fiscal Years 2004 and 2007, the share of programs rated "Effective" under PART has risen (from 6 percent to 16 percent), while the "Ineffective" category has dropped only slightly (from 5 percent to 4 percent). One large grouping for federal programs, those that could not demonstrate results of any kind, has shrunk by half (from 50 percent in 2004 to 24 percent in 2007), but the rate of decline has been sluggish in recent years -- suggesting that some core number of federal programs could be chronically rating-resistant.
  • Yet, even these results don't always mesh with experience. In Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007, for example, FEMA's disaster response programs received an "Adequate" designation, which (in FY 2006) included an 80 percent score for "planning" and 100 percent for "management."
  • PART ratings have a measurable effect on proposed funding levels. In FY 2007, for example, the Administration has requested an average 4.9 percent increase for "Effective" programs, but an average 47.5 percent cut for "Ineffective" ones (the trend held for all categories).
  • While PART is a factor in the Executive Branch's budget, it has far less of an impact on Congress. Of the 15 PART-measured programs zeroed out in the FY 2005 White House budget, at least 13 appeared again in the 2006 document.

Rasmussen noted that the PART ratings may actually work to justify programs that have been cited by the government's own auditors for significant waste, fraud, and abuse. The seven most costly federal programs rated by PART in 2007 -- among them Medicare, Food Stamps, Highway Infrastructure, and Social Security Supplemental Income -- received a rating of "Adequate" or higher.

"While PART has some maturing to do, it has helped to put agencies on notice that taxpayers are measuring their fiscal competence," Rasmussen concluded. "However, government will only truly deliver 'more' to taxpayers when legislators are willing to confront the thicket of special interests and cut off the dead wood that serves to rot our budget."

NTU is a non-profit, non-partisan citizen group founded in 1969 to work for lower taxes, smaller government, and more economic freedom. Note: NTU Policy Paper 119, Four Years of PART: Should Taxpayers Really 'Expect More' from Government? is available at