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PART and Expectmore.gov

One of the documents included in the president’s FY 2004 budget declared “…we are no closer to measurable accountability than in President Johnson’s day”(48). In the budget for that year, the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) showed how they were addressing this problem with something called the Program Assessment Rating Tool, or PART.

PART was initially developed in 2002 (from what I’ve been able to determine). By 2004, its performance rating assessments were growing in numbers of programs assessed and in influencing budgeting decisions.It is a questionnaire executed by the OMB and the agency whose program is being assessed. The questions are in weighted into four categories: Program Purpose & Design (20%), Planning (10%), Management (20%), Results (50%).

PART questions are designed for short answers and are to be accompanied with supporting evidence (or other details when applicable). Lack of supporting detail for an answer may result in a disfavorable score for a particular question. PART answers determine a program’s overall rating. An important objective of the PART assessment process is to help an agency develop an improvement plan for a program –which is then used to evaluate performance in subsequent evaluations. A PART assessment should help clarify a program’s purpose, design, planning, management, results, and accountability and help decision makers (and citizens) determine its overall effectiveness.

There are seven types of programs eligible for PART, including Direct Federal, Competitive Grant, Block/Formula Grant, and Capital Assets and Service Acquisition (like big-budget defense acquisitions). Programs were initially to be assessed every five years. The FAQ on the OMB page has more detail.

Citizens can get PART assessments from Expectmore.gov. The site was launched formally by the OMB in April of this year(the site was initially launched in February). By making assessments of Federal programs based on PART results available to the public, it is believed such public accountability for performance increases transparency and help us judge whether a program is using resources effectively.

Programs have two categories of ratings, “Performing” (broken down into three sub-categories of “Effective”, “Moderately Effective”, or “Adequate”) and “Not Performing” (as either “Ineffective” or “Results Not Demonstrated”). Currently, according to PART assessment results of about 800 programs,

  • 72% of Federal programs are “Performing”:
    • 15% of Federal programs are Effective (meaning these programs set “ambitious goals, achieve results, are well-managed and improve efficiency”).
    • 29% of Federal programs are Moderately Effective.
    • 28% of Federal programs are Adequate.
  • 28% of Federal programs are “Not Performing”:
    • 4% of Federal programs are Ineffective (meaning these programs have been judged to be “unable to achieve results due to a lack of clarity regarding the program’s purpose or goals, poor management, or some other significant weakness”). Some examples of “Ineffective” programs are the “EPA Ecological Research” and Amtrak .

    • 24% of Federal programs are Results Not Demonstrated. Includes those programs which were not able to collect adequate data.

The answers to PART questionnaires for an individual program are available on expectmore.gov. From the main page click on either “Show me the programs that are Performing” or “Not Performing”. These results you have to scroll thru as these query results are not downloadable to Excel for quicker sorting (however, you can get a dump of all programs, ratings, and recent funding information based on FY 2007 requests on the “Funding information for each program” link). Next, select a program and bring up its assessment page; at the bottom of the page is a “Learn More” link on the left and a “Assessment Details, Funding, and Improvement Plan” link to the right of that. Each assessment has a link to a “Program Performance Measures” and “Program Improvement Plans” (every program has an improvement plan regardless of its rating being “Effective” or “Not Effective”).

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  1. dcornwall says:

    Interesting that there aren’t PART entries for the $8 Billion a MONTH Iraq war, warrantless wiretapping. or USA PATRIOT related programs that are either expensive, intrusive of both. Those are the programs whose performance most need to be measured.

    Duane, thanks for all the entries this month. I’m learning a lot and I bet others are too.

    “And besides all that, what we need is a decentralized, distributed system of depositing electronic files to local libraries willing to host them.” — Daniel Cornwall, tipping his hat to Cato the Elder for the original quote.

  2. duanez says:

    Thanks Dan. It’s good to hear from you. I am glad to hear some of my posts are interesting to you.

    I found two of the big ticket defense programs featured. Two of my favorites are Future Combat Systems and the Joint Strike Fighter. Both are, according to the PART process, “Moderately Effective”.

    I admire the effort and the principles i think are behind it. There are some things that bother me about PART, based on what I know. First, is that it’s another checklist. That is, in the past four years I’ve been involved in defense acquisitions (on the commercial side), I’ve come across about three or four checklist “tools”. They are used for evaluating a program’s effectiveness in some area. I’ve learned that checklists are like survey instruments and are prone to the same weakness: you get the answers you’re looking for. So, sometimes you come across questions like “When did you stop beating your dog?”. Well, what if you’ve never beat your dog? No matter, you got to answer the question to get the score.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, interesting stuff. I had a posting about this at ircworld – specifically the problem of assessing the effectiveness of public diplomacy – and other such “immeasurable but immeasurably important” programs – against quantitative standards.

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