What are some of the most critical insights OMB has gained?
A valuable program inventory would help facilitate more informed decision-making and further enhance Federal policymakers’ ability to make resource allocation decisions.
Creating this type of inventory requires identifying programs that stakeholders can readily compare and collecting a variety of information about each program.
Currently there is not a single definition of program that is consistently applied by the Budget, CFO, and Performance communities across the Federal government.
The lack of a common definition means data about individual programs resides across disparate locations and systems within an agency and there are no linkages that would allow for automatic identification of programs.
Building these linkages will require agency efforts to consistently identify programs and potentially technical adjustments to existing financial systems.
Critical Insight: Creating an inventory requires broad consensus across stakeholders about which programs should be included.
Clear communication and extensive agency engagement are critical to success.
OMB has prioritized engaging agencies throughout the pilot.
In total, more than 200 agency staff have already participated in FPI meetings or presentations with OMB, and OMB has addressed hundreds of data issues directly with agencies.
This engagement has and will continue to be a two-way street – OMB was able to assist agencies with a wide variety of issues and OMB is learning from agencies and their experiences.
Critical Insight: The success of any future iteration of the FPI hinges on thorough agency feedback and cooperation at every stage.
Focusing agency effort and managing the scope through the use of categories or a similar concept can be useful rather than trying to identify the universe of an agency’s programs at the same time.
The pilot focused on 12 categories of spending to target agency efforts.
The use of categories also facilitated immediate cross-cutting analysis of the pilot data and further illustrated the potential benefits of constructing a more comprehensive inventory.
Category definitions generally helped agencies identify spending that may be relevant to the pilot exercise. Applying a similar concept in future program inventory implementations may simplify the analysis of applicable spending.
Using categories enabled OMB to utilize subject matter expertise within OMB and agencies to assist with identification and classification of particular sets of programs.
Critical Insight: Use of categories or something similar may be helpful for scoping purposes.
Agencies can identify the programs that are in their purview.
For the pilot, OMB defined program as a unique combination of how agencies spend their money and the purpose of that spending (e.g., Formula Grants for Housing Assistance).
This definition uses common elements to define programs in a way that makes those programs more readily comparable across agencies.
Although there were issues with consistency in applying this multi-dimensional approach across agencies, in many cases agencies were able to identify their programs and to provide appropriate descriptions of them.
Critical Insight: The early results of the pilot indicate agencies’ have a deep understanding of their programs that could allow for consistent and comprehensive listings.
The use of common elements needs to be refined.
The pilot defined program using a common set of elements that, when used together, would create a program identifier. This definition relied upon the recommended approach to developing an inventory laid out by GAO in a 2017 report.
The use of these elements was not as successful at identifying a program identifier as expected.
Specifically, there were issues related to the consistency with which agencies applied these elements and the elements did not prove to be unique in many cases.
Based on agency feedback and cursory examination of the data, there are several adjustments to these elements that will need to be re-considered if this methodology is to be applied in future iterations of the inventory.
Critical Insight: Early results of the pilot indicate there is still substantial work to be done, in particular with respect to consistently creating a program identifier, before a coherent and comprehensive inventory is attainable.