Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It’s been that time of year again, when Americans shell out their tax dollars to the federal government. As we filled out those confusing forms and calculated whether we owe or get a refund, some taxpayers no doubt wondered what the government does with their hard-earned money. Until recently, that’s been a pretty hard question to answer.

Some may know the IRS tax booklet that you receive each year long has included a diagram that breaks down where a rough percentage of each federal dollar is spent — domestic spending, national security, entitlements, and debt payments — all in one big pie chart.

Unfortunately, the little pie chart tells us taxpayers nothing about tangible results from the government we fund with our hard-earned tax dollars. Nothing about how many kids were taught, how many roads were built, how many species protected, etc. What’s worse, we don’t know whether we’re getting more results this year for each $1 we send to Washington or less (though most Americans probably can give you a gut reaction to that one.)

Well, that is all about to change thanks to a new Web site by the Office of Management and Budget, The Web site contains a performance review for some 800 individual federal programs. It explains relatively simply what we taxpayers get from each program and — more importantly — whether that program is producing more results this year or less. It also recommends ways the program can be improved to better serve taxpayers. Pretty novel concept — long overdue. highlights some programs that are performing well and helping to solve problems Americans care about. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Homeless Assistance Grants program effectively coordinates and targets funding to help homeless individuals and families put roofs over their heads, move from transitional to permanent housing, and obtain employment. According to the review posted, the program has a high level of success and has laid out a focused plan to further improve its performance.

But many other programs are listed under “needs improvement.” Take the Center for Disease Control’s Diabetes program, for example. It works to ease the burden of diabetes through research and outreach to publicize the latest scientific breakthroughs in treatment. But until recently, the initiative lacked any way to measure its results. not only mandated a measures program, it provided administrators with a detailed list of recommendations on how the program can improve its performance and help better fight this deadly disease. Taxpayers will be able to watch how this program improves over the next few years and see if it begins to better measure up. also lists programs that are outright failing. Take the Perkins Loan system, an Education Department program that provides funding to colleges and universities to grant low-interest loans student loans. While well intentioned, the Perkins Loan program is redundant, duplicative and ineffective given the broad availability of need-based, subsidized loans through the two larger programs, the Federal Family Education Loans and the Ford Direct Student Loans.

These other outlets provide nearly $80 billion in annual aid directly to families, while Perkins Loans provide only $1 billion and routes it awkwardly through third parties. recommends this program be dissolved and its funding be diverted to better performing student aid efforts like the highly effective Pell Grant program.

When federal programs fail to perform, the perceived solution is often to throw more money at the problem. What’s worse, Congress allocates more funding to ineffective programs rather than shifting money to more effective places. Leaders do this not because they like waste or failure, but because they, like taxpayers, lack frank, objective evaluations of government performance.

Eliminating failing federal programs always draws fire from the uninformed. In the past, Americans have had great difficulty understanding how to make the best decisions about spending our limited resources because of a lack of transparency on government performance. cuts through the fog of confusion and gives both citizens and lawmakers the clear information they need.

Tax time should remind every American that common sense demands we combat problems in the most effective possible way. is taxpayers’ one-stop-shopping destination for candid information on how government uses our money. While not perfect, is a great first step toward the ultimate goal of a transparent government that performs to the highest standards and produces maximum results.

Carl DeMaio is president of the Performance Institute and has served as an adviser to numerous elected leaders, including President George W. Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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