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By Sean Gorman December 9, 2013

Budget program, begun under Kaine, goes online

Bob McDonnell pledged during his gubernatorial campaign to a bring results-based budgeting system to Virginia.

His campaign said in a September 2009 news release that the state should establish goals for each agency at the start of every budget cycle and evaluate the results at the end before setting determining future appropriations.

"Bob McDonnell will improve the budget system by implementing a budget process that rewards effective programs and allocates future spending based upon that effectiveness," his campaign wrote.

When we asked for an update on this promise, the governor's office said it was fulfilled early in McDonnell's term through the startup of a computer program created for the Department of Planning and Budget. The tool provides a website where politicians, state employees and the public can scrutinize state agencies' performance measures and budget information.

For example, a goal of the Department of Motor Vehicles is to cut average waiting for motorists at its customer service centers to 20 minutes per visit by 2016. This year, the average wait is 21.5 minutes.

The state's Department of Taxation has a goal over the 2014, 2015 and 2016 fiscal years to answer at least 87 percent of customer service calls made to the department before the caller hangs up. In the 2013 fiscal year the department reported it answered 90.3 percent of calls before the customer disconnected. The department noted that although its regularly exceeded the 87 percent threshold, it's concerned about maintaining that level of service amid rising call volume and decreased staffing.

Each agency creates its own goals, said Dan Timberlake, the director of the Department of Planning and Budget. The benchmarks alone don't tell state officials how much money should be spent on a program, but they can flag issues that need to be addressed.

If an agency isn't meeting goals, Timberlake said the data can help budget writers determine whether the office is using funds effectively or should receive more or less money.

The online budget tool was built by a McLean-based Project Performance Company, and is projected to cost $15 million over the next decade, according to Timberlake. The system was launched under McDonnell and has been funded during the course of his administration, Timberlake said.

We should note, however, that the contract was awarded in early 2009 by then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and the system was in the process of being implemented before McDonnell was inaugurated in January 2010.

Even prior to Kaine's administration, Virginia had been recognized for its use of performance benchmarks in budgeting.

The Government Accountability Office -- the investigative arm of Congress -- said in a 2005 report that Virginia and several other states had "established histories of performance budgeting efforts." The GAO noted that a 2004 state law --- enacted under then Gov. Mark Warner -- required agencies to develop a series of performance measures for any new state programs or services as part of a budget request.

Timberlake said that although the state had been funding programs based on effectiveness prior to the new budget tool's implementation, "we didn't have all the connections and data that we have now that's available to us today."

Robert Vaughn, staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, described the computer program as helpful, but not revolutionary. He said it is one of many tools used by budget writers.  

So the McDonnell administration has followed through on plans put in place by previous administrations to create a program that can help budget writers fund programs based on effectiveness. But this tool has hardly led to a new budget process that, in McDonnell's words,  "rewards effective programs and allocates future spending based upon that effectiveness."

We rate his action on this pledge as a Compromise.

Our Sources

McDonnell for Governor, "McDonnell and Bolling unveil budget and spending reform plan," September, 2009.

E-mail from Jeff Caldwell, spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, May 24, 2013.

Interviews with Dan Timberlake, director of the Virginia Department of Management and Budget," Aug. 27 and Nov. 22, Nov. 27, 2013.

Virginia Performs, on-line budget management tool, accessed Nov. 27, 2013.

Government Accountability Office, "Performance budgeting: States' experience can inform federal efforts," February 2005.

International Journal of Public Administration, "Reforming ritual and budget practice: The case of performance management implementation in Virginia," 2005.

The Pew Center on the States, "Trade-off time: How four states continue to deliver," February, 2009.

Ohio Legislative Service Commission, "Fiscal note & local impact statement," Jan. 25, 2011.

Virginia Department of Planning and Budget, "Executive branch strategic planning, service area planning and performance-based budgeting," July 29, 30 and Aug. 4, 2009.

Virginia Department of Planning and Budget, "Performance management overview," accessed Sept. 16, 2013.

Governing, "The spending-performance equation," Dec. 20, 2011.

Virginia Information Technologies Agency, "Virginia Performs: Virginia's performance leadership and accountability system," June 3, 2009.

Legislative Information System, House Joint Resolution No. 563 from the 2001 General Assembly session, Jan. 10, 2001.

Interview with Linda Wade, audit director at the Virginia Auditor of Public Acounts, Nov. 26, 2013.

Auditor of Public Accounts, "Review of the budget and appropriation processing control system," June 30, 2009.

Project Performance Company, "PPC developed Commonwealth of Virginia's enterprise-wide state performance budgeting system," accessed Nov. 27, 2013.

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