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KSG Rewards Gov’t Programs

By Brendan R. Linn, Crimson Staff Writer

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was among the six winners last week of the 2005 Innovations in American Government Award, a $100,000 prize awarded by the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) to promote efficiency in government.

In a statement last Wednesday, President Bush said, “I congratulate the hard-working employees at OMB for winning this award...We are changing the way the Federal government thinks about program management and budgeting.”

Representatives from the chosen programs convened in Washington last Wednesday for an awards ceremony, sponsored by the KSG’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation and the Council for Excellence in Government, a private organization.

Besides the OMB, which was rewarded for an initiative that scrutinizes federal programs, the honored organizations included a Washington public boarding school, the nation’s first; a Pennsylvania program helping mentally ill inmates transition to life after prison; a youth program in Virginia; an initiative in Iowa that minimizes bureaucracy for state agencies; and a building inspection program in Los Angeles.

Gowher Rizvi, the director of the Ash Institute, did not return repeated requests for comment this week. But in a statement last week, Rizvi called the winning initiatives—culled from an initial applicant pool of over 1,000—“ground-breaking efforts” that “[take] a creative approach to a significant problem” in bureaucracy and administration.

The OMB’s winning advance, the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), is a way of tracking the effectiveness of federal programs using a rigorous survey with both multiple choice and open-ended questions. This year, the OMB plans to complete reviews of 20 percent of federal programs, and expects to step it up to 80 percent next year, according to Robert Shea, an OMB spokesman.

“The innovation is not in the tool itself...but in the commitment to apply it uniformly to all programs,” Shea said.

He added that the OMB was not yet sure if it could accept the $100,000 prize under federal regulations.

“We’re a federal agency that’s used to giving, rather than receiving,” Shea explained.

Last year’s PART evaluations rated more than 50 percent of the programs it surveyed as having “results not demonstrated,” including, for example, several components of the Department of Homeland Security.

Another winner of the Ash Center’s awards was the Allegheny County State Forensic Program in Pennsylvania, a social agency that caters to inmates with behavioral health diagnoses who are nearing the end of their prison terms. The program works to integrate inmates back into society during the 90 days following their release.

Since its inception in 1999, the program has served 347 former inmates and boasts a recidivism rate of just 10.4 percent—an impressive record when compared with a national average of over 60 percent.

Sue Martone, a deputy director at the county’s Office of Behavioral Health who oversees the forensic program, said that the $100,000 of prize money would likely be reinvested in the program.

“We would love to do more, we would love to be able to provide additional services” to ex-inmates indefinitely, Martone said.

A third recipient of the Ash Institute’s awards were the Iowa Charter Agencies, a collection of six state departments that operate under charters that hold them financially accountable while exempting them from many bureaucratic restrictions.

“This is very much post-bureaucratic,” said Jim Chrisinger, a official in the state Department of Management who oversees the charter process.

“Americans have largely come to the conclusion that the bureaucratic system no longer meets our needs.”

The three remaining recipients were the SEED School in Washington, D.C., which enrolls about 320 urban students in grades seven through twelve; Youth Civic Engagement of the Hampton Coalition for Youth, in Hampton, Va., which offers extensive opportunities for teens to interact with city government; and the Systematic Code Enforcement Program in Los Angeles, a rigorous home- and apartment-inspection initiative.

Representatives of all three programs did not return repeated requests for comment this week.

—Staff writer Brendan R. Linn can be reached at blinn@fas.harvard.edu.

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