MY VIEW | What gets measured gets done


The federal government has 44 separate job training and employment programs spread across nine different agencies and departments. They spend a combined $12 billion a year and serve about 30 million Americans.

Similarly, the federal government has established a patchwork system of at least 22 separate programs focused on the important consumer health issue of food safety.

At least 17 stand-alone programs have been established over time to support the federal role in higher education.

What is frustrating to me, and I would imagine to most taxpayers, is the lack of any sustained effort to analyze and compare these similar but scattered federal programs.

We do not do a good enough job evaluating outcomes and gauging overall effectiveness and I believe that is unacceptable in a time of heightened and appropriate concern over federal spending and budget deficits.

While several recent presidents and a series of Congresses have required federal agencies to collect a lot of data and submit all kinds of annual reports, we have never taken the next logical step: making smart, responsible use of the information.

Is anyone evaluating whether these programs really get the job done? Is anyone looking across the separate agency silos to identify waste or duplication? Has there been any effort to share best practices among different programs with similar functions? Doesn’t it make sense that consolidating and streamlining repetitive programs and functions could lead to considerable cost savings for the taxpayers?

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota has asked me to lead the bipartisan Task Force on Government Performance to try to find the answers to these questions, and I was both honored by his request and eager to get to work.

Our task force is looking at the performance and accountability metrics already being used by the federal government and considering whether these existing reporting requirements are themselves duplicative, time-consuming or counter-productive. And we certainly plan to survey a broad array of newer tools being used effectively by many state and local governments, as well as the private sector, to measure outcomes and effectiveness.

We are working closely with Jeffrey Zients, the Office of Management and Budget deputy director whom President Barack Obama has designated as his “chief performance officer.” I have known Jeff, a Northern Virginia resident and business leader, for many years, and I have faith in his considerable talents and abilities. In many ways, this task force builds on much of my previous work as Virginia’s governor.

When I took office in Richmond in 2002, the Commonwealth faced a $6 billion revenue shortfall on a $34 billion base budget.

To address the deficit, we made deep budget cuts across state government. But we also viewed Virginia’s fiscal crisis as an excellent opportunity to re-evaluate the way state government delivered services.

We worked in a responsible and bipartisan way with Virginia’s legislature to implement smart, business-like reforms that continue to produce significant taxpayer savings for Virginians today.

We took a hard look across state government and eliminated or consolidated almost 100 outdated or duplicative state agencies, oversight boards and government commissions, saving considerable taxpayer money while also reducing state regulation and paperwork requirements.

We continue to achieve significant savings by implementing a “portfolio” approach to the way we manage the state’s real estate, vehicle fleet and other property, combining agency field offices into shared office space and adopting modern fleet management tools.

We saved significant money by shifting most state purchasing online, leveraging the size and scale of government to broaden competitive bids and saving Virginia taxpayers an estimated $30 million each year through lower prices for goods and services.

We set clear performance goals for each agency, empowered our state work force to think creatively about ways to achieve those goals, and then held agency managers accountable for their results.

As a result of our clear focus on reform, accountability and transparency, we saved our coveted Triple-A bond rating, eventually turned our budget deficits into a surplus, and today the Commonwealth continues to earn accolades as the nation’s “best managed state” and the “best state for business.”

I have always believed in this simple business school concept: What gets measured gets done.

So the Budget Committee’s Task Force on Government Performance will make every effort to seek out the best minds and evaluate the smartest practices.

We will ask the right questions: How can we encourage better performance and greater efficiency within the federal government? Are there ways to streamline existing reporting requirements and increase accountability and transparency? Can’t we do more to minimize duplication?

At the very least, our efforts should result in a bipartisan roadmap to achieve meaningful savings for taxpayers.

Sen. Warner, an Alexandria Democrat, serves on the Budget, Banking, Commerce and Rules committees. He served as governor of Virginia from 2002-2006.