Friday, November 28th, 2014

Kitz-O-Meter

Require cost-benefit reports for every state program

Will require cost-benefit reports of every state program every year, the first would be due within 45 days of the election.


Updates

Program ‘bids’ were used to craft 2013-15 budget

We rated this promise Stalled in April 2011 because the Kitzhaber administration hadn't figured out how to draw up the cost-benefit reports in a usable, comparable form. They promised to go back and make it work.

And they did.

New bid forms for each agency program were submitted in June and in September 2012, to help prepare the governor's 2013-15 proposed budget. Each program described its stated purpose, people served, delivery methods and performance measurement. Each bid form included a two-year estimate of the program's cost for the immediate future, as well as down the line.

We admit this is way wonky, even for us. We asked George Naughton, the state's chief financial officer at the Department of Administrative Services, whether these forms were that much different from reports state agencies had to submit in the past in preparation for budget time. He said yes, in three key ways.

One, the governor looks at how much the program is expected to cost in the next two years, as well as over 10 years. Two, the program needs to justify its existence by linking to a long-term goal down the line, such as the ambitious goal to make sure a certain percentage of Oregonians score degrees after high school by 2025. Three, the performance measures are for individual programs, not for the overall agency under which it is housed.

Finally, Kitzhaber said he would require these "bid" forms, or cost-benefit reports, every year but Naughton said they will be required every two years, in keeping with the budget cycle. Given their purpose, we think every other year is enough to make this a Promise Kept.

Sources:

Emails from Tim Raphael, Sept. 4, 13, 2013

Interview with and emails from George Naughton, Sept. 17-18, 2013

Promise to require agency cost-benefit reports appears stalled


One of the central themes in Gov. John Kitzhaber"s successful 2010 campaign was smarter, more efficient government. Kitzhaber promised on more than one occasion that he would completely restructure the state"s budget-making process so that the state wouldn"t have to face across-the board cuts and would instead be able to work from a list of ranked state priorities.

In September 2010, he told KOHD, an ABC affiliate, that those priorities would be built using cost-benefit reports from state agencies. "If we build this budget right next session we can avoid in the future having to deal with across the board cuts, we'll build based on a set of priorities the most important to the least important," Kitzhaber said.

Each agency, he told the station, would have to submit a report annually -- and that the first would be due within 45 days of his election. Well, Kitzhaber has been in office for more than 100 days now; we wondered how those reports panned out.

Turns out, not quite as planned.

After several calls to his office, we finally sat down with the governor"s spokeswoman Christine Miles. Three agencies, she said, were asked for and submitted the cost-benefit reports the governor had mentioned during his campaign. Those agencies are the Oregon Youth Authority, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Corrections.

Miles showed us the report submitted by the Department of Corrections. It"s about 25 pages full of budgetary pie charts and figures, internal performance measurements and department lingo.

The problem, Miles said, is that after the governor"s office looked over the three cost-benefit reports, staff realized that each department was using a different set of measurements, a different set of terminology. They came to the conclusion "that we"ve got to figure out a better way.”

"We need to be all on the same system,” Miles said. "We need to report the same way.”

So, the office put a hold on the cost-benefit report requirement. "We wanted to go back, start at the basics … (so) the lingo, the accounting at one agency matches up with another agency.”

To that end, the governor has tasked Michael Jordan, the state"s first chief operating officer, with creating a new metric by which agencies can measure, among other things, the effectiveness of their various operations. Once that"s done, Jordan said, the agencies will once again be asked to file annual reports that match the foundation he creates.

Still, "(i)t"s going to take us a while to get all these things lined up,” he said. Likely, it won"t be ready until Kitzhaber is drawing up his budget for the 2013-2015 biennium.

It"s hard to pick a rating for this promise as things stand now. Technically, in order to meet the promise, Kitzhaber should have had more than three cost-benefit reports returned by now. That said, he hasn"t abandoned the idea. It seems like his office is making a genuine effort to rework a promise that, in practice, wasn"t very practical. For now, we"ll rate this a Promise Stalled. We"ll be sure to check back when the next budget negotiations start up.

Sources:

Interview with Christine Miles, April 19, 2011

Interview with Michael Jordan, April 19, 2011

Oregon Department of Corrections" cost-benefit report, December 30, 2010

KOHD News, "John Kitzhaber Reveals His Budget Plan,” September 7, 2010