May 20, 2009 By Wayne Hanson
President Obama in February outlined some fundamental principles for the disbursement of stimulus funds. "We are asking the American people to trust their government with an unprecedented level of funding to address the economic emergency," he said. " In return, we must prove to them that their dollars are being invested in initiatives and strategies that make a difference in their communities," and called for accountability and transparency in the management of stimulus funds.
Most jurisdictions across the country are accustomed to reporting to state and federal entities, and many have instituted unprecedented levels of financial transparency. Performance management tools can help fulfill the reporting requirements, improve transparency and help to refine and improve the processes of government to better achieve "making a difference." Lane County, Oregon, is serious about taking on those challenges.
In the fall of 2005 Lane County, Ore., began a pilot implementation of performance management software in the Health and Human Services Department. "We refined all the metrics being used in the department," said Lane County Senior Management Analyst Jennifer Inman "Unlike other organizations, we didn't develop a balance score card or a set of key indicators that we measured from the top down. We developed program-level manager-level metrics to use for data-driven decision-making on a day-to-day or month-to-month basis."
The county has since expanded the performance management program to 14 departments -- using Actuate software -- covering services from road maintenance to immunizations, building permits, deeds and records. "We have so many different kinds of work in our organization," said Inman, "that each area develops their own sets of metrics to report. Some of those areas have very detailed program-level measures -- efficiency and service quality, customer satisfaction -- and others have high-level measures that are reported at the department level. Some departments use the software and do performance management in quite detailed ways, and other departments do performance measure to report out annually or biannually to the county and other funders -- and then through our budget process to the public."
With stimulus funding transparency and accountability a high-profile issue, metrics could be key. Inman said that the county is expecting stimulus funding for public works and health and has grant documents for its federally qualified health center. But as yet there are no specifics on the kinds of outcome data that might be required. She said most likely it would be focused on the quantity of services provided under a specific level of funding. "Customer service and its impact, number of immunizations, first-birth families that we are able to screen into our healthy start program, numbers about outcomes for infant mortality -- we have different touchpoints to look at.
"The federal and state governments have been expectant of data in the past," said Inman, "so transparency and accountability is not such a new thing. I'm glad that we are able to take advantage of this opportunity, and we already have an infrastructure of measuring performance established in our organization. I'm pretty confident that whatever is going to be requested, we'll be able to use that system to manage and report back."
"The beauty of performance management," said Inman, "is that you can track how things are going before you have to report, so you can make adjustments. It's not just looking back and reporting, it's about looking forward and projecting, seeing how you are doing and making adjustments. That's been very important for us this year, with the economy tanking, to watch deeds and records, and our building permitting and watch the dominos across the organization fall as building slacked off, and the housing market dropped -- to see what was going