Dec 31 2009

Doing Their PART

Two agencies track budget and performance integration with the Program Assessment Rating Tool.

The Office of Management
and Budget must seem
like a very demanding
boss who never stops
piling on work to
federal employees. In
the current push to
bring performance and financial
accountability to federal agencies, OMB is
the chief enforcer of the President's
Management Agenda (PMA) since
the initiative began nearly four years ago.

OMB introduced a new wrinkle for
agencies—an analytical tool known as
PART. The Program Assessment Rating
Tool pushes agency managers to evaluate
the performance and management of both
new and existing programs by
questioning the programs' purposes, goals
and results.

Some agencies view PART as just
another regulatory obligation, while others
embrace the process as a strategic tool for
allocating precious financial resources.
Demonstrating PART proficiency is also
one of the key elements to getting to green
in the PMA's budget and performance
integration (BPI) component.

One of five PMA evaluation categories,
BPI rates agencies on how well they link and
justify funding requests with quantifiable
performance measures. It's also a tough
requirement to achieve, with only seven
agencies achieving green ratings, while five
agencies still struggle with red ratings.

The departments of State (which
moved up from yellow to green in the
OMB rankings announced last
September) and
Interior (red) have
attracted a lot of
attention from federal
agencies struggling
with BPI success.
Taking different
approaches, the two
departments developed a computer
application to automate PART analyses
in order to make PART compliance
easier. Even OMB is impressed.

"The most attractive feature of
both these systems is the fact that
they track the implementation of PART
recommendations," says Robert Shea,
counselor to OMB's deputy director for
management and the head of the PMA's
BPI initiative. "Other agencies are
looking for ways to use the tools Interior
and State have in place, and I will be
working with many of them to see how we
can make these systems available to [all

Answering Questions

PART provides a methodology for
measuring and diagnosing the
management and performance of
federal programs. It requires agencies
to delve into each program's purpose,
strategic plans, management and

An occasional adversarial give-and-take then occurs between agencies and
OMB. Agencies defend their goals and
strategies; OMB asks for performance
metrics to quantify agency-proposed
programs or the successes of existing
ones. OMB gives each program one of five
scores, ranging from "Effective" to
"Ineffective" or "Results Not
Demonstrated." Those scores become part
of the budget requests that agencies
submit to OMB and Congress.

OMB releases an annual list of about
200 programs that it will assess under
PART. The 200 programs on the fiscal
2006 list will bring to 600 the number
analyzed under PART since fiscal 2004
and the first round of assessments.
Together, the 600 assessed programs
represent about 60 percent of the
federal budget—approximately
$1.3 trillion, according to OMB
estimates. Some 80 percent of all
agency programs will have
undergone PART scrutiny by the
2007 fiscal year, with the
remainder scheduled to be analyzed
with the fiscal 2008 budget.

Focusing on Two Stages

Simplicity is the key element of Interior's
application, an intentionally stripped-down Web program that left some bells
and whistles on the cutting-room floor.
"We wanted something that's simple and
produces value," says Scott Cameron,
deputy assistant secretary for
performance, accountability and human
resources at the Interior Department.
Cameron manages PART activities at the

Interior's application focuses on two
critical stages of the PART process. The
first stage helps managers formulate
answers to questions, while the second
tracks progress after the agency and OMB
agree on requirements and management

To date, about six programs at
Interior's eight bureaus have
undergone PART scrutiny. Eventually,
that number will grow to 150 programs
covering a cross-section of Interior's
operations—everything from the
national fish hatchery system run by the
Fish and Wildlife Service to the
mapping operations in the Geological
Survey and the Bureau of Indian Affairs'

school construction projects.

In the past, Interior answered PART's
30 questions by filling in a form
downloaded from OMB's Web site. But the
process was less than perfect, according
to Cameron. "The PART document is
long, and you're constantly updating
and changing your
answers, so
version control
becomes difficult,"
he explains.

Interior typically
completes about 15
PART documents
annually, with five
to 20 individuals
contributing to each
analysis. "That's a lot
of paper moving
back and forth,"
Cameron adds.
"With so many
people modifying the
form, there was no
way of knowing if
you were working on
the latest version.
There could be a lot
of people wasting a
lot of effort."

custom Web
eliminates that
concern. The new
application has
automated version
control and a
database dedicated
to PART documents.
It also includes an
auditing system
that tracks each change to give
managers an audit trail. This paints a
picture of how the answers evolved
over time.

The second component is even more
crucial because it tracks and manages
recommendations that result from
OMB's reviews. "Once you finish the
PART questionnaire, you've got a
completed document," Cameron says.
"But the big question is: How do you
go about implementing the results?"

The tracking module shows who at
Interior is responsible for implementing
each of the recommendations and
milestones that agencies and OMB
hammer out. It even sends e-mail alerts
to the appropriate people as deadlines
approach. "This helps you create actual
improvements in your program, not just
a nice piece of paper that took you four
months to produce," Cameron says.

Interior began developing its Web
application last year. Managers
started using it last spring for half a
dozen new projects.

"Most of the time associated with PART
is tied up with the analytics—trying to
figure out what's really going on with a
program and pulling the evidence
together," Cameron says. "Having the
Web-based system hasn't dramatically
hastened the PART process, but it has
reduced a lot of wasted effort, so we're
putting more time into thinking and
producing evidence, and less time into
returning phone calls and e-mails and
trying to figure out if we're using the
most recent version of a document."

Taking a Different Approach

The State Department took a different
approach with PART. Not content with
creating a PART questionnaire and
tracking program, State folded its
automated PART analysis program into a
larger application used to automate its
internal planning processes. This
innovation was hailed by OMB as "the
model for government." State also won
the prestigious President's Quality Award,
the highest level of management
recognition for its planning efforts.

The existing program helps managers
develop Bureau Performance Plans
(BPPs), State's annual report that
includes resource requests,
performance planning and
performance results data. BPPs
incorporate review criteria specified in the
Government Performance and Results
Act (GPRA), a federally mandated
measurement tool that helps agencies
define broad program visions and
policy direction.

As department heads evaluate existing
programs and cost-justify new
initiatives, they use a detailed
program that incorporates a full
range of internal and federally
mandated requirements. It is one-stop shopping for performance

"As we continued to undergo the
PART process, we realized a lot of
questions in the tool were very useful for
planning," says Anne Pham, director of
annual planning and evaluation at the
State Department's Office of Strategic
and Performance Planning in
Washington. "GPRA poses the questions,

'Do you have goals in place?' and 'Are
you tracking and managing those goals?'
PART asks, 'Do you have the right goals
to begin with?' That helped us get a
better focus and prioritization."

With the PART analysis features tied
into the BPP program, managers can
review PART progress in the context of
the overall bureau performance
management. "As you fill in the
BPP information, you also enter all PART
documentation," Pham says. "The
program then generates the PART worksheet that we submit to the OMB."

The new application incorporates
PART scores from prior OMB reviews and
annual and long-term goals and
measures how well those goals have been
met. The application also includes
performance evaluations from programs
that cut across more than one strategic or
performance goal.

Like Interior's application, State's also
tracks the status of OMB
recommendations. "OMB wants agencies
to report on how they're progressing and
addressing PART recommendations,"
Pham says. "The enhancements we've
made help facilitate these types of
activities. The result is improved program

performance, with the percentage of state
programs rated 'effective' rising to 76 in
2004 from zero in 2002."

In addition, State included efficiency
measures in the new application related
to the PMA's criteria for BPI, Pham adds.
These measures examine cost savings,
time reductions and other OMB-defined
efficiency categories.

A Tool for Green

Both Interior and State say they've
shown their applications to other
agencies and will freely distribute the
software to interested agencies. OMB's
Shea is also spreading the word about
these two applications.

"Both systems have a very good
way of tracking the implementation of
recommendations for improving program
performance," he says. "If these
assessments are done in a vacuum, they're
not very valuable. Likewise, if we're not
tracking our progress against past
assessments, the efforts are for naught.
The systems at Interior and State provide
assistance in these areas and allow for the
greater sharing of information."

The programs also may help agencies
move closer to BPI green. "We want to
see that performance information is a
factor in decision-making in the budget,"
Shea says. "Both systems track the
implementation of recommendations
and discern whether they are having the
desired effect on the performance of a
program. Those are important elements
of the Budget and Performance
Integration initiative."

But Interior's Cameron knows that
even the best tool cannot, by itself,
guarantee performance management
success or a PMA green rating.
"Fundamentally, we need to show that
we're looking at performance and that
we are demonstrating the use of PART
in our budget development and budget
submissions processes," he says.
"That's the guts of what will get you to

"The PART application can be
helpful in several of those areas, but it's
not magic," Cameron says. "It's only as
good as the data that's going into it and
the degree to which management pays
attention to all those automatically
generated e-mails. Technology is never a
substitute for thinking."


The idea of performance-based budgeting
has been around for decades, so Program
Assessment Rating Tool (PART) analyses
and the President's Management Agenda
aren't necessarily breaking new ground. A
spotlight emphasis on accountability by
the Office of Management and Budget
(OMB) is a new development. For some
agencies, getting used to the glare takes
some adjustment.

"The OMB has intensified the spotlight
with the PART process," says Richard
Keevey, director of Performance
Consortium and Human Resources
Management Consortium and director of
state operations at the National Academy
of Public Administration. The Washington,
D.C., think tank assists federal agencies
with the Government Performance and
Results Act and other performance-based
management activities. "And OMB is
making it all very visible," he points out.

Some agencies achieve performance-based management better than others,
depending in large part on their
commitment to the concept and the PART
process, Keevey says. He offers some
other strategies that work well.

First, federal agencies must designate
somebody to take ownership of the PART
process. "That somebody—and his or her
staff—has to work with all the major
programs of the department to carefully
go through each of the questions being
asked of PART," he says. "Honestly ask, 'Is
this program designed properly?' 'Does it
have the right purpose in mind?' 'Is there
good strategic planning?' 'Are we
managing the program well?' and 'Can we
show results?' "

For many agencies, the last question
can be the most challenging and the
most difficult.

Establishing these procedures and
systems to collect data takes time, money
and sometimes a fight to overcome the
resistance of managers who may never
before have been asked to generate a
program justifying metrics.

"It's a lot of grubby, hard work,"
Keevey warns.


Each of the four Program Assessment Rating Tool measurement categories is used to
calculate a federal agency's total PART score. Program Results/Accountability, which
measures program effectiveness vis-à-vis long-range goals, can account for 50 percent
of an agency's PART score and is closely tied to Strategic Planning.

— Program Results/Accountability vis-à-vis its long-range goals
(closely tied to Strategic Planning section)

— Purpose & Design: Program scope, clarity, uniqueness and

— Strategic Planning: Long-range planning, measurement,
coordination and assessments

— Program Management: Information processing, financial
methodology and program oversight