If you visit ExpectMore.gov, a new Web site maintained by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB), you can calculate pretty quickly that 47 Department of Education programs are not up to snuff, while 27 are working properly. You also can get a feel for individual programs’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as the Bush administration’s plans to improve them.
What you can’t yet get is a complete assessment of all federal education undertakings.
ExpectMore.gov was launched in February 2006 in order, according to the site, to report how well hundreds of federal programs are performing and “how effectively tax dollars are being spent.” The site distills data from the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), an accountability system instituted by the Bush administration in 2002 that assesses programs in four major areas: purpose, strategic planning, management, and results.
Simple, or Simplistic?
From an accessibility standpoint, ExpectMore.gov makes it easy for anyone with a computer to search programs by topic, performance level, name, or keyword. In addition, once a user has pinpointed a program, he can click on a link to it and get easily digested summaries of its purpose and effectiveness, the criteria on which it was assessed, and the actions being taken to improve it. Finally, each program page has “learn more” links at the bottom that direct users to detailed PART results for each initiative, as well as pages outside of ExpectMore.gov that deal with the program.
The site’s simplicity, while useful for making PART data accessible, costs it a lot in terms of the depth of its content, said Adam Hughes, director of federal fiscal policy at OMB Watch, a nonprofit organization that monitors the OMB.
“I have a number of issues with how information is presented,” Hughes said. “It is like government information for dummies.”
In addition to the shallowness of its content, Hughes said the site reflects only what the OMB would like to see programs produce, which often is different from congressional intent or what stakeholders want.
“The program could be doing exactly what Congress expected it to do,” Hughes said, “but OMB might not like that.”
Robert Shea, counselor to the deputy director for management at the OMB, disputed Hughes’ assertion, saying the “basis for our assessments is congressional intent.”
ExpectMore.gov’s second major shortcoming is that numerous federal education programs simply have not yet been assessed. These range from huge initiatives such as Title I Grants and Local Education Agencies, to smaller programs such as Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners–a cultural education activities program for natives of Alaska, Hawaii, and Massachusetts. All told, reviews for only 74 of roughly 150 Department of Education programs can be found on the site.
Moreover, of the 47 Education Department programs on the site that have been designated “not performing,” 41 have been labeled “results not demonstrated” (RND), meaning program administrators have not yet “been able to develop acceptable performance goals or collect data to determine whether [a program] is performing.”
David Rowe, Education Branch chief at the OMB, said the absence of so many programs from the site is only temporary. He noted most of the missing programs will be assessed by the end of the year. As for the programs with undemonstrated results, change is coming there, too, Shea said.
“Our highest priority is to fix those programs,” Shea said.
Neal McCluskey ([email protected]) is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.
For more information …
Office of Management and Budget http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/
OMB Watch http://www.ombwatch.org/