In recent months, as we’ve talked with evaluation professionals in the states and local governments, we have worried a bit that they weren’t more involved in the early days after the Recovery Act went into action. An old friend, John Turcotte, who is director of the program evaluation division for the North Carolina General Assembly, wasn’t complaining – but he did point out that he hasn’t been asked, thus far, to evaluate any of the aspects of the Recovery Act. A little north, in Virginia, David Von Moll, who is the state comptroller, told us that “We haven’t specifically related ARRA activity to our performance management process. That’s a goal of what we might want to do at some point.”
It certainly seems like a worthwhile goal. Of course, there’s no shortage of data associated with the Recovery Act, and the reporting requirements are keeping local officials just about as busy as a florist on Mothers Day. The funds are scrutinized, of course, by leagues of individuals who are focused on accountability. But attention to program results is significantly less pronounced. Perhaps the emphasis – and public dialogue – would already have shifted in that direction had there been more early involvement from the performance auditors, legislative evaluators, and performance budgeters who spend their lives dealing with measuring the impact of programs.
“I felt that the goals of the stimulus office were the same as the performance improvement office, but they were clearly two distinct operations,” says Sharon Daboin, the former Deputy Secretary for Performance Improvement with the Budget Office in Pennsylvania. “I tried to share the tools that were being used to track objectives and accomplishments within each program office, but a key person in the stimulus office said ‘Your focus and mine are completely different.’”
There are some states, like Maryland, in which the stimulus reporting is directly connected with the performance reporting generally. But, that appears to be more the exception than the rule.
A comment from Gary VanLandingham, director of Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability sums up our feelings nicely (although he wasn’t talking about the Recovery Act when he said this): “I think, ideally, if you have something that is going to have to be evaluated or managed, then it would be good if folks who were designing the programs would bring in some of the evaluation folks at the beginning to know what kind of data we’d need to collect. It’s difficult to retrofit management systems to go back and collect data which ideally you should have been collecting to start with.”