Doing What Works

The Obama Administration’s favorite think tank, the Center for American Progress (CAP), has launched a new project, Doing What Works.” Led by Reece Rushing and Jitinder Kohli, it has three objectives:

  • Eliminating or redesigning misguided spending programs and tax expenditures focused o priority areas such as health care, energy, and education;
  • Boosting government productivity by streamlining management and strengthening operations in the areas of human resources, information technology, and procurement; and
  • Building a foundation for smarter decision making by enhancing transparency, performance measurement, and evaluation.

At their kick-off event, they released a pair of reports:

Doing What Works: Building a Government That Delivers Greater Value and Results to the American People,” which lays out some specific steps the project will take:

  • Challenge the status quo.  Highlight misguided spending priorities and tax expenditures that should be eliminated or reformed, with particular attention to CAP priorities:  health care, energy, and education.
  • Measure what works.  Showcase examples of what a stronger measurement and evaluation system might look like to guide policy and management choices.
  • Experiment and innovate.  Test different approaches to improving results and apply lessons to other programs and agencies.
  • Coordinate and consolidate.  Identify federal programs that perform similar functions or serve the same people, and find ways that they could be better coordinated or consolidated.
  • Enlist the public.  Thousands of extra eyes can be employed to spot problems, offer solutions, and bring fresh perspectives. 
  • Be ready to execute.  Identify best practices to improve basic government systems, such as  information technology investments, contracting procedures, and the hiring process.

The report notes that such efforts are necessary because “a serious discussion of fiscal choices will only be possible if there is greater confidence that scare public resources will be wisely spent.”

The second report, “Golden Goals for Government Performance” offers five case studies on how to establish goals to achieve results.  The five case studies – the state of Victoria (Australia), Virginia, Scotland, the state of Washington, and the United Kingdom – each created an institutional focus on achieving broad societal outcomes.  Their experiences offer a possible path for the federal governmental performance model:

  • Define clear “outcome” goals at the highest level feasible.
  • Focus on the handful of goals that can only be achieved through collaboration across agencies.
  • Make sure public servants and the public are clear about what the goals are, and who in government is responsible for delivering them.
  • Build strategies to achieve these goals.
  • Evaluation agency programs on the basis of the contributions they make toward these goals.
  • Make the data on progress toward these goals transparent to the public.
  • Make the effort a joint one between the executive and legislative branches.

The case studies are both inspiring and revealing.  The report is worth reading.


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