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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Senior agency leaders focus on measuring success of their programs

In keeping with what the Obama administration sees as a high priority, officials at the Labor, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs departments are making program and performance evaluation a key focus in their strategic planning. Agencies already have been working hard narrow down their top objectives -- like the Agriculture Department's push to ensure all children in America have access to safe and nutritious meals -- and now they are tackling the even more difficult task of determining how to measure success.

Well into the process of submitting high-priority performance goals to the Office of Management and Budget, senior officials say they are identifying their program objectives and designing ways to evaluate progress toward those outcomes.

Labor will create a new position -- chief evaluation officer -- and a corresponding office within the policy office. The chief evaluation officer will develop a strategic approach that ties together the diverse goals and priorities of the department's many agencies and offices.

At Agriculture, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan's staff aims to establish metrics that can accurately measure success and to make sure each metric involves multiple agencies and mission areas.

Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould said the elevator test applies to budgetary questions as well as metrics.

"There are three basic questions when you go see an appropriator -- what are you buying, how much does it cost and what do I get for it," he said. "If you can't answer that question in 30 seconds, it's on to the next line item."

Gould, Merrigan and Harris all anticipate the budget environment will be increasingly Spartan in the coming years, making program evaluation even more important.

-Elizabeth Newell, GovExec.com

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