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The Bush Administration's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART)

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Publication Date: November 2004

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL32663

Topic: Government (Government agencies and bodies)

Abstract:

Federal government agencies and programs work to accomplish widely varying missions. These agencies and programs employ a number of public policy approaches, including federal spending, tax laws, tax expenditures, and regulation. Given the scope and complexity of these efforts, it is understandable that citizens, their elected representatives, civil servants, and the public at large would have an interest in the performance and results of government agencies and programs.

Evaluating the performance of government agencies and programs has proven difficult and often controversial. In spite of these challenges, in the last 50 years both Congress and the President have undertaken numerous efforts -- sometimes referred to as performance management, performance budgeting, strategic planning, or program evaluation -- to analyze and manage the federal government's performance. Many of those initiatives attempted in varying ways to use performance information to influence budget and management decisions for agencies and programs. The George W. Bush Administration's release of the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) is the latest of these efforts.

The PART is a set of questionnaires that the Bush Administration developed to assess the effectiveness of different types of federal executive branch programs, in order to influence funding and management decisions. A component of the President's Management Agenda (PMA), the PART focuses on four aspects of a program: purpose and design; strategic planning; program management; and program results/accountability. The Administration submitted PART ratings for programs along with the President's FY2004 and FY2005 budget proposals, and plans to continue doing so for FY2006 and subsequent years.

This report discusses how the PART is structured, how it has been used, and how various commentators have assessed its design and implementation. The report concludes with a discussion of potential criteria for assessing the PART or other program evaluations, which Congress might consider during the budget process, in oversight of federal agencies and programs, and in consideration of legislation that relates to the PART or program evaluation generally.

Proponents have seen the PART as a necessary enhancement to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), a law that the Administration views as not having met its objectives, in order to hold agencies accountable for performance and to integrate budgeting with performance. However, critics have seen the PART as overly political and a tool to shift power from Congress to the President, as well as failing to provide for adequate stakeholder consultation and public participation. Some observers have commented that the PART has provided a needed stimulus to agency program evaluation efforts, but they do not agree on whether the PART validly assesses program effectiveness.

This report will be updated as events warrant.