Changes to PART Referenced in Obama Budget

President Obama released more details of his FY 2010 budget request last week and I've been spending some time flipping through it today. I didn't have to flip far to find some encouraging news about how the new administration will tackle performance assessment over the next four years and what they plan to do with the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART). Front and center on page 9 in the most important volume in the budget release - the Analytical Perspectives - is a section called "Building a High-Performing Government." This gives the first details about administration plans to replace PART with a new performance system the administration refers to as a "performance improvement and analysis framework."

It has been no secret that the Obama administration was not satisfied with the PART or the Bush administration's attempts at assessing government performance. OMB Director Peter Orszag let it be known during one of his confirmation hearings before the Senate that he hoped to create a more open, responsive, and dynamic system to review program performance. Until now though, we had few details about how exactly OMB and the White House would go about creating such a system.

While the budget release still is short on details with only one page specifically on performance measurement, there are some encouraging themes that are emerging from the budget, including overhauling the focus on the performance system and a commitment to transparency. While not throwing out the PART altogether, the budget speaks of taking a new approach:

A reformed performance improvement and analysis framework will switch the focus from grading programs as successful or unsuccessful to requiring agency leaders to set priority goals, demonstrate progress in achieving goals, and explain performance trends.

Also encouraging is that the administration wants to engage a variety of stakeholders - including the public, Congress, and outside experts - to help create a more open performance measurement process and identify high priority goals for agencies. In many ways, this was exactly what was missing from the PART - an open dialogue between a variety of stakeholders, including different parts of the government, about achieving shared goals. This is indeed different than under the Bush administration.

We aren't likely to see a lot of movement on instituting a new framework until the CPO nominee Jeffrey Zients is confirmed by the Senate, but it will be exciting to see the Obama administration continue to add details to their overhaul of government performance systems.

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