What’s Performance Measurement Got To Do With It?

February 17, 2011 | By Guest Contributor | Post a Comment

(This post was written by Jon Desenberg, policy director at The Performance Institute, which is a subsidiary of Thompson Media Group.  PI is a nonpartisan, private think tank seeking to improve government performance through the principles of transparency, accountability, performance and engagement.) This week the President released his proposed FY 2012 Federal budget, and for those with an interest in grants and the return on the investment in those grants, the budget is less than transparent. At PI, we work with federal grantmaking agencies every day and it’s become increasingly apparent that the average taxpayer has little idea of how much grant money is flowing in areas beyond where they typically are thought to exist.

Yes, we know that the $7 billion National Science Foundation budget is made up largely of grants, but how many of us really understand how much of the Department of Homeland Security’s much larger $56 billion is actually expended through grants and other grant-like budget items?  Our estimate is that it’s between 2 and 4 billion dollars.  While it’s true that the entire federal budget is more than $3 trillion, almost all grants come from the much smaller discretionary, nondefense section of the budget that is only 16% of that total.  The bottom line is that grants are in the spotlight and are slated with other discretionary spending to bear the brunt of spending cuts from the new Congress and the White House.

One piece of good news in this area is the work that PI has undertaken to partner with Senators Warner (D-Va.), Carper (D-Del.) and Akaka (D-Hawaii) to reform the way Congress evaluates and measures the impact and effectiveness of discretionary spending, including grants.  After working for more than five years on various bills, we were pleased to see many of our ideas and performance framework captured in the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010. When it was signed by the President on Jan. 4, 2011, it became the first federal law dealing with this critical topic in 18 years.

As an example of the kind of grant work foreseen in the new law, PI partnered with the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research to bring a new emphasis on strategic planning, performance measures, and program evaluation to all 27 states participating in the program.  By underscoring a true partnership that reflects the best use of the Government Performance Logic Model by both the larger EPSCoR program and its participating states, there have been noted improvements in the outcomes for cutting-edge projects ranging from organ regeneration to super computing to solar cells.  Today, partnership, training and long-term data collection have become required or expected for the ongoing sustainability of many federal grants.

If you’re a recipient, how does your organization use performance measurement to manage your grants? If you’re a funder, what are the strengths and challenges your recipients are having around performance measurement?

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