Bush budget to link performance to funding

Spending plan to reward efficient programs

February 03, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The $2.13 trillion budget plan that President Bush will send to Congress tomorrow will for the first time formally assess the performance of government agencies and programs and to some degree link their financing to the grades they receive, administration officials said.

Based on an internal review conducted by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the budget gives uniformly poor marks to all the major Cabinet departments in five categories of management, including personnel and finances. It also singles out programs within departments for praise, criticism and corresponding spending increases or cuts.

The Department of Energy's fossil energy research and development programs were judged ineffective and duplicative, and their budget was slashed to $58 million from $101 million, a 43 percent reduction. The Agriculture Department's system of 5,600 county field offices was rated ineffective and had its budget increase limited to about 2 percent, or $59 million, probably not enough to keep pace with inflation.

But the National Weather Service's hurricane and tornado warning program was deemed highly successful, and the administration will seek a budget increase for it of $32 million, or 4.2 percent.

The effort grew out of a campaign promise by Bush to make government more accountable for its performance and follows similar efforts in Congress to find ways to measure bang for the taxpayer's buck.

It dovetails with the ideological push by many Republicans, including Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., White House budget director, to weed out what they consider to be wasteful, duplicative and inefficient programs in their drive to reduce the size of government.

But with the disappearance of the budget surplus, the effort also provided the administration with a justification for freezing or cutting programs to make room for its two priorities, increasing spending on the military in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and pushing for a new round of tax cuts intended to help the economy.

Although the Pentagon was judged to have serious flaws in all five categories of the management scorecard featured in the budget, Bush is calling for $48 billion in new spending on the military, the biggest increase since the Reagan administration.

The five categories are personnel, using competition to hold down costs, financial management, using technology to increase efficiency and matching the effectiveness of programs to the financing they receive.

"Defeating international terrorism and defending Americans in our homeland are imperative duties of the federal government, above and beyond all its other activities," Bush's budget proposal says. "We must provide for these increases and fund other necessary programs without letting total spending rise unacceptably. We must demand proof of value from programs of lesser priority."

Democrats said the initiative would be viewed skeptically in Congress, where Daniels' relationships with members of both parties have been strained by his campaign to hold down spending.

In assessing the performance of the Cabinet departments, administration officials said they had identified management issues that most needed attention and that the poor marks were therefore to be expected. The results were given to Cabinet secretaries late last year, and Bush reviewed them with the secretaries last month.

"The president told them it's not about punishment," Daniels said, "it's about creating a climate for improvement."

The goal of the scorecard, said Mark W. Everson, the administration official who oversaw its development, was "to bring a private-sector standard into the government."

But administration officials said it was more difficult to assess specific programs for effectiveness and value for money than to review managerial practices in a department.

They said their efforts to link allocations of money to performance were in their early stages.

"The number of programs for which there is enough information to declare them effective or ineffective is still a small minority," Daniels said. "We hope to stimulate a lot more discussion of that issue through publication of this document."

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