Auditor raises flag about how government measures performance
By: By Ryan Tumilty
| Posted: Saturday, Jul 07, 2012 06:00 am
The auditor general says performance measures used across government are often unclear on what they are measuring, why they are missing targets and why the targets are what they are.
In his report released this week, auditor general Merwan Saher said there was little information about the targets the government had set and the outcomes they achieved in all departments and that many departments were not meeting reporting standards.
The performance measures report on a variety of things including such varied issues as high school completion rates, hospital stays, crime rates and the condition of provincial highways.
Saher said many of the measures missed the government’s target, but had little explanation about why.
“Performance measurement is not just reporting what you achieved, the whole purpose of it is to learn. So why haven’t we achieved the target?”
The auditor general’s office found almost 100 performance measures across government that didn’t have enough information.
One of the examples the office provided was the government’s target for volunteerism, which is targeted at 83 per cent. Over the last four years it has been as high as 82.7 per cent and as low as 72.3 per cent with no insight from the government as to why.
Saher said the government’s report also doesn’t tie many of the measures to the cost of achieving them. As an example, he said it is a good idea for the government to want to raise high school completion, but it also has to make clear what the cost of doing that is.
He also said the government needs to make it clear why the performance targets were set where they are.
“I believe Albertans and those using performance measurements should understand why the target is what it is.”
The government passed the Results Based Budgeting Act in the spring, which aims to change how government departments budget. As part of the act, the government will evaluate every government department once every three years to make sure all programs are still worth doing.
Saher said if the government doesn’t fix its system for measuring results, that process could face challenges.
“If you haven’t done a proper variance analysis then you risk making the wrong decision on the path forward.”
He said if the government fixes these performance measures it would get more out of the process.
“These recommendations we have made to you will help that initiative to be more successful.”
Kathleen Range, press secretary to treasury board president and local MLA Doug Horner, said the results-based budgeting process is about making sure the government’s spending lines up with its priorities.
“Departments will be looking at what outcomes they are trying to achieve and then work back from that.”
She said they welcomed any opportunity to make that process better including the auditor’s report.
“If there is a way we can improve, then we are certainly looking.”
She said while the finance department is ultimately responsible for the reporting, individual departments provide most of the information. She said finance would need to hear from those departments before responding to the auditor’s recommendations.