The Obama Administration is actively promoting transparency of program data via data.gov. But what about transparency of program results?
Traditionally, agencies report their performance results of their programs at the end of each year. This is required under the Government Performance and Results Act. It wasn’t too long ago when it was a big deal that agencies shortened their year-end reporting from 6 months after the end of the fiscal year to 6 weeks after the end of the fiscal year. Today, the new expectation is that performance results should be continually available – ideally in real-time.
The Poster Child for Real-Time Results: Recovery.gov. The poster child for this new expectation is the Recovery Act’s website, www.recovery.gov. OMB requires weekly reports from agencies on progress on monies going out to states and localities. Each agency and each state also have their own websites, as well. The recovery.gov website has been criticized for only reporting spending and not results, such as jobs created (which is actually a bit unfair, given that these projects are just getting underway!). Still, the law requires the first real quarterly reports on progress and results from about 200,000 reporting entities (e.g., states, localities, contractors) in October. And OMB is still fine-tuning the guidance for what should each type of entity be reporting.
An Early Adopter: Millennial Challenge Corp. But recovery.gov isn’t the only federal effort committed to reporting more regularly on program results. Yesterday, I was invited to the unveiling of a results-oriented website created by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a broader, governmentwide trend!
Here’s a quick snapshot of what I learned:
What is the MCC? Launching a results-oriented reporting system is a natural for MCC, given its origin and mission. MCC was created in 2004 as a different way of providing foreign aid. As a separate, independent agency, MCC doesn’t just fund a wide range of projects in different countries. It focuses specifically on reducing poverty by partnering with host countries to make them more responsible for their own development. It signs a compact — the equivalent of a performance agreement — for a multi-year period with the host country and monitors progress on a range of indicators tied to program performance (e.g., economic rates of return) and poverty reduction.
MCC starts with a set of selection criteria that determine whether a country can even qualify for participation. These criteria include ruling justly, investing in people, and encouraging economic freedom. About 30 countries are eligible to apply. To date, 18 have signed 5-year compacts for grants totaling $6.3 billion. At this point, MCC estimates that the rate of return for this investment will be about $8 billion in increased income, benefiting 22 million people – broken out by country and by project.
The MCC’s Performance System. In launching MCC’s web-based performance system, acting chief executive Rodney Bent said in his blog: “I’m pleased to draw your attention to the newest feature on MCC’s website: a dedicated section on results. This one-stop resource is the first step in an evolving compilation of MCC’s results. . . .” The site allows you to:
- View country and thematic monitoring and evaluation information.
- Understand evaluation criteria and performance measures, such as economic rates of return.
- Track progress on a quarterly basis.
What does this look like? Let’s take one country (not unlike looking at a single state’s website in the Recovery.gov world):
Armenia: An Example of Country-Level Reporting. The MCC website summarizes project expenditure rates and progress to date in Armenia, but more importantly, the local Armenian partner for the program runs its own website (which is conveniently translated into English as well!).
Both the MCC and local sites, like the one for Armenia, are still evolving. They still have a number of documents in PDF format, but the locally-run site for Armenia is beginning to geo-map the locations of projects by region and posting their plans, expenditures, and surveys used to assess progress. They also post some success stories to give a flavor of what is happening, which may (in some cases) be more compelling than just data. . . and these are similar to the approaches states are taking in reporting on their Recovery Act monies!
Implications. Both cases (MCC and Recovery Act reporting) are examples of pioneering new approaches that could well have a far broader impact. Putting measures of results out there will likely touch off discussions, and possible adoption, of common standards for how to measure the results of a range of programs. In the foreign aid community, this might reach across different aid agencies and different countries and non-profits providing aid. In the Recovery Act, it might be the development of common results measures reaching across states, localities, and the more than 300 programs funded by the Act. . . and possible programs beyond the Act.