Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Vermont Budget > Challenges for Change has a familiar ring

Challenges for Change has a familiar ring

After the early fanfare for Challenges for Change, the government reform plan proposed last session, legislators quickly discovered that the devil, indeed, was lurking in the details. The premise of Challenges was something everyone could support: government services delivered more effectively and at less cost. The devilish part came in measuring government output. How do you know you’re improving—or at least maintaining—the quality of public services while reducing expenditures?

The Douglas administration has tried to provide some answers to that question in the latest quarterly progress report to the Legislature. But the Legislature’s oversight committee found a basic weakness in the administration’s approach.

“The report as submitted lacks baseline information for measurement in many areas and this is a key concern,” the committee said in its response to the progress report. “…. This report should have had July 1 baseline information or at least a clear timeline when that will be in place.”

Reading through the progress report, it’s easy to see what the oversight committee was talking about. There are boldly stated goals. But for many programs, especially in the Agency of Human Services, where Challenges for Change is expecting to find the greatest savings, the data needed to measure progress are lacking.

Sadly, the agency used to collect and publish just the sort of information the Legislature is now seeking through Challenges for Change. Twenty years ago, the agency made a fundamental shift from focusing on caseloads to tracking indicators that reflect the health of our society—alcoholism, child abuse, prenatal care, graduation and drop-out rates, literacy, obesity, and others. Each year, the agency published a report that showed where the state was making progress and where there was still more work to be done.

The last of these “Vermont Well-Being” reports was published in 2006. In the push to reduce the size of state government, the administration also cut the state’s capacity to measure the performance and effectiveness of what it does. Now that Challenges for Change has sparked renewed interest in improving government efficiency, the administration and the Legislature are learning they need to rebuild the capacity that’s been lost.

For a good case of déjà vu, read the last published “Vermont Well-Being” report, and then read the Agency of Human Services section of the Challenges for Change progress report.

Try not to cry.

Posted by Jack Hoffman on July 23, 2010 at 3:58 pm

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