Published Wednesday, January 11, 2012
When Gov. Nathan Deal releases details of his proposed budget today for legislators' consideration, he won't be giving them enough information, according to a recent state analysis.
Missing is how to tell if a program asking for money works or not.
The Department of Audits and Accounts analyzed what goes into the Governor's Budget Report each year and concluded it falls short of the best practices used in other states because there's no data on whether specific programs are actually doing what they're designed to do.
"Compared to the frameworks established in other states, cited as best-practice states in the literature, Georgia's current structure does not provide for the type and amount of information, legislative participation, or controls over data reliability that are necessary to ensure that performance measures are useful and used," the auditors wrote.
The Governor's Office of Planning and Budget eliminated its performance-evaluation division in 2009 due to staff cuts, and it had no one doing strategic planning from November 2010 until August 2011. It doesn't even ask agencies to document the validity of performance data used internally.
The OPB's response to the analysis is that lawmakers can ask to see other paperwork that documents program effectiveness.
"It is common practice for OPB to share its working papers including performance information and research with the House and Senate budget offices to explain the Governor's Budget recommendations," it wrote in response to the analysis.
And House Speaker David Ralston said Friday that while he is always looking for improvements, he isn't ready to change the way budgets are presented to the General Assembly.
"I don't necessarily embrace all of those findings," said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.
Deal's spokesman, Brian Robinson, offered a similar response.
"The audit was requested and performed by the legislative branch, and the governor has not read it," he said. "Gov. Deal is satisfied, however, with how the budget process works and the excellent job done by his staff at the Office of Planning and Budget."
One former OPB staffer who now heads an independent think tank says the auditors' analysis is right on target.
"The process seems flawed," said Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
The Senate Appropriations Committee requested the analysis. It has instructed its staff to take a critical look at whether programs are effective ever since 2008 when the House and Senate established separate budget offices.
Ralston, though, thinks one budget office can work for both the House and Senate.
Such limited staff is a major reason in why more performance data is lacking in the process of deciding about funding, Essig said.
"It takes a lot of energy and attention to change procedures like this," he said. "... Fundamental changes like this aren't simple."
(Walter C. Jones is bureau chief for Morris News Service in Atlanta.)