Promise to require agency cost-benefit reports appears stalled
Updated: Sunday, April 24th, 2011 | By Ryan Kost
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.
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
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