The Bureaucrat Vol 5 Num 1

Public Policy Forum

Thomas D. Lynch


The Federal Government, and increasingly state and local governments, are becoming more concerned about program evaluation. At least $130 million is spent each year to evaluate federal programs. Increasingly, Congress in mandating program evaluation. More and more people would agree with the U.S. Comptroller General, who in testimony on the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 noted the need for and significance of program evaluation as an integral part of government activities.

We are seeing program evaluation becoming more apparent in federal agencies, the Office of Management and Budget (OBM), Congress agencies, especially the General Accounting Office, and legislative review commissions. We are seeing some excellent literature being developed on evaluation-particularly by the Urban Institute. And we are increasingly seeing more academic attention devoted to policy analysis with program evaluation considered within the larger topic. In other words, program evaluation is an important and current emphasis in public administration.


Public executives are concerned with a central managerial question: Is my organization making satisfactory progress toward accomplishing the objectives established for it? The question is easily stated, but nor so easily answered. For example, what is “satisfactory” or what are the “objectives”? Legislatures normally uses vague, nonoperational language in their enabling legislation. Regardless of the practical difficulties to the administrator, critical commentators frequently offer their opinions on how a public administrator is failing to meet his or her responsibilities.

This paper explores one method that could be used by a public executive in addressing this central question. This method involves the establishment of a progress reporting system within the agency-an often tried and often poorly executed managerial technique. this paper is not addressed to judging whether the agency is properly impacting society’s problems, but rather to the less complex questions of whether the agency is accomplishing the tasks it has set out for itself. A good progress reporting system should logically relate to program evaluation, cost accounting, the budget process, performance measures, and personnel performance reports, but these measures are not addressed here in order to reasonably limit the scope of this paper. Instead, this paper examines reporting format, the techniques used to isolate and overcome organizational resistance to establishing progress reporting, some advice on properly institutionalizing the reporting system, and some cautions on the types of people who should manage such a system.

There is a relatively large body of literature on Management by Objectives (MBO) which is relevant to progress reporting. This article complements the MBO literature. The topics of what are “good” objectives, supervisor-employee goal setting, and how to decide on objectives are not focused upon here. The reader is, however, encouraged to consider this article in the larger context is understood, many of the subsequent topics discussed will have added meaning. The reader will become more aware of the organizational pitfalls which prevent the existence of effective progress reporting systems.

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