Government Needs Better Process for Evaluating Program Effectiveness

The fiscal year 2012 budget marks President Obama’s first wave of tough fiscal choices. In response to a $1.5 trillion deficit, the president proposed 211 terminations and reductions for more than $33 billion in the fiscal year beginning in October. This includes eliminating 76 government programs across 17 agencies.

The federal government’s tight fiscal situation requires difficult choices. The Obama administration deserves praise for its willingness to propose reforms or cuts to programs that have important constituencies of support. But how did the administration decide which programs to cut?

Each proposed termination or reduction in the budget document boasts a brief justification but the process within the government was far from systematic. Agencies proposed programs they thought might be candidates, budget examiners in the Office of Management and Budget had their own list, and a negotiation followed.

We believe that government needs a better process for deciding which budget lines to terminate or trim. It needs a comprehensive system to review the performance and impact of all programs to guide future budget decisions.

That’s why we developed the “Reviewing What Works” tools, a process including practical tools for evaluating the effectiveness of government programs. They are part of a recent Center for American Progress report entitled “The Secret to Programs that Work.”

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