Mercatus Center Issues Performance Scorecard on Federal Agencies

Posted: May 15, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lura Forcum

The percentage of federal spending covered by government agencies with satisfactory performance reports rose to its highest level since the reports were mandated nine years ago.

However, this is only 35 percent of $2.587 trillion in spending, according to Mason’s economics research and outreach group, the Mercatus Center.

Mercatus’ “Ninth Annual Performance Report Scorecard: Which Federal Agencies Best Inform the Public” rates the 24 largest federal agencies’ performance and accountability reports on transparency, explanation of public benefits and forward-looking leadership.

This year, the top three reports were compiled by the departments of Transportation, Labor and Veterans Affairs. Two reports that have been ranked near the bottom of the list in past years — Homeland Security and Health and Human Services — improved tremendously to tie for fifth place. The Department of Defense achieved the lowest numerical score in the history of the rankings.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) presented awards to the top-ranking agencies and praised all of the agencies’ efforts to publicly disclose their performance. He argued that this sort of transparency, as well as transparency in federal accounting practices, is essential.

“If you’re an investor, you want to read your favorite company’s financial report; why wouldn’t you want to read your favorite country’s financial report?”

Report author Maurice McTigue, a distinguished visiting scholar and vice president of the Mercatus Center, argued that the next step in performance reporting should be to “put this information into the hands of congressional members at appropriations time.”

Linking agency funding to performance will become more important to decision making as lawmakers determine a growing number of budget priorities with limited funds.

This year’s rankings had to contend with a new pilot report format promulgated by the federal Office of Management and Budget. The rankings showed that, while the new format has the potential to increase transparency, it did not achieve this goal in its first year of use. However, the pilot concept of a highlights document, a brief summary of agency performance information, can add substantial value in terms of transparency to the average citizen.

The highlights document has the potential to improve the usefulness of government results information. The report authors list 10 suggestions for improving the highlights, including using graphics to make information more accessible to readers, linking directly to electronic versions of supporting documents when possible and writing brief narratives in plain English.

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