I am in a class. Though the title is “Budgeting in Government and Nonprofit Orginizations”  it is actually very interesting. This past week, our assignment was to assess a department’s budgetary performance standards. Huh. A budget based on performance. Sounds like a great idea. Do good –> get paid! That’s the thought, that’s the intention.

However, in a practical world some of these idealistic standards may break down. Problems may include goals and metrics are unrealistic because they are created by someone without intimate knowledge of the work environment, staff turnover inhibits efficiencies because no one else knows how to do a particular job or the job itself needs to be done my licensed professional, or some other unforeseen change occurs impacting an organization’s performance and efficiencies. There are times that a department might feel entitled to in dollars that they do not receive, or employees perceive other departments received dollars that they did not match the performance standards set.

Seem kinda skeptical?

Think of this. The Illinois state budget is a Performance Based Budget.

The Illinois. State. Budget. is performance based.

For an assingment, I looked into this performance based budget on one department in particular; Department of Veterans’ Affairs:


The Illinois state operational budget is a 554 page document released from the governors office February 14, 2018. This document concisely lists responsibilities of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to in providing “outreach services to assist Illinois veterans” as well as “provide long-term skilled care to aged and disabled veterans”. These responsibilities are summarized into one-sentence outlining the accomplishment of serving a defined number of veterans at around 130,000 a year adding up to 530,000 since 2014. As with all the department listings, the “budget highlights” reinforces the administration’s commitment to the current veteran’s homes as well as beginning to fund the Chicago Home.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs budget separates the money appropriations through ‘major object’ or funds which some require general assembly action. It also lists the same appropriation dollars ($146,048,500) by key divisions, which are essentially long-term care facilities and departmental offices. These key divisions include isolating service programs as well as long term care facilities. It is helpful to understand the overall structure and framing of these programs in reference to budget appropriations. The separation of these programs & funds is important when compared to the department’s budgetary performance measures. In short, there is no one-to-one comparison. While most of the numbers go up from FY 2015 to projected numbers in FY 2019, it is very difficult to follow the performance measurements.

The budgetary fund called the Homeless Veterans Program received $1.25 Million in 2017. In looking at the departments performance measures, the only explicit metric involving homeless veterans is listed as cash grants in the amount of $344,900 awarded to veterans homelessness. The rest of the monies apparently dissolved into the minutia of general funding. Another example is the G.I. Education Fund which received $1.39 million in 2017. While there are a number of performance measures that discuss education, the G.I. Bill & teaching, the metrics are not entirely dollars and cents. Some are simply the number of claims and applications of enrollment. In fact, the Troops to Teachers program has been totally defunded in the Governor’s recommended appropriation for FY 2019. Most of these numbers do increase, showing some amount of program effectiveness (i.e. numbers go up as time goes on). There simply is not a direct line between allocation of funding and these performance measures. The metrics that are here seem blithe and inert in their effectiveness in communicating outputs to the process and efficiency of the department. Moreover, none of the performance measures listed in this budget section contain any type of measure of satisfaction metrics.

The most obvious and blatant hole in this performance measurement system is that the outbreak of legionnaires disease at the Quincy Veterans Home is only slightly noted by an increase of $8 million from FY 2017 enacted to FY 2019 proposed. If such a failure of performance were honestly measured, it would be notable in these metrics. This leads to the following recommendations for improving performance measurements for this department.

Recommendations

  1. Veteran’s Satisfaction: There is no doubt, difficulty in measuring client satisfaction of a bureaucratic nightmare like the Illinois state Department of Veterans’ Affairs. This measure would not only assess individual recipients of programs and services but residents of these veterans’ homes across the state as well as their families. To be a productive metric all reports should be included in the results whether good or bad. The indication that this department does not measure any type of satisfaction metric simply indicates to its residents, veterans and the general public that the Legislature and Governor turn a blind eye to these opinions. That alone should motivate legislators to enact some type of veteran satisfaction survey upon the conclusion of services rendered.
  2. Individual veteran’s home metrics:this budget does have statistics for personnel (headcounts) by division which include the individual veterans’ home locations. These are an aside to the performance metrics and not included within them. It would be advantageous to the state legislature which must approve their appropriations to understand which home is successful in efficiency and effectiveness.
  3. Primary Accomplishment NotReported: At the beginning of this report, I mentioned the Department of Veterans Affairs quoting 530,000 veterans and eligible dependents have been assisted since 2014 and projecting to assist 135,000 in 2018. Not one of the performance measurements listed in this budget documents indicate any total number of veterans and dependents assisted. To be listed as an explicit accomplishment of this department at the beginning of the section, then not having the performance measurements listed seems like a gratuitous oversight or intentional omission.

Measuring performance is an important part of any endeavor. We all do it without even calling it “performance measurement”. From learning a new skill, having a hobby, or even washing the dishes. Performance can be assessed: Did I learn the skill? Am I enjoying the hobby? Are the dishes clean? Looking at an organization and its budget in line to performance should be no different. Each organization and each department has at it’s root, a purpose or mission to its existence. Measuring whether or not that organization is fulfilling that mission should be the concern of everyone there. It is important to note that participants in the budgetary process seek the feedback of those that they are measuring the performance of. Practically speaking this means allowing department heads and managers to set standards of efficiencies and not from a top-down approach.

Ladies and Gentlemen: ” The Illinois State Budget