Policy Position

Government Accountability

in Government Regulation

Introduction

Government needs to be open and accountable to taxpayers. Many of the tools needed to achieve that goal also help government employees succeed in their jobs. The state auditor and the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division are the two entities that have done the most to examine state government performance.

It is hard to make information available to the general public if it is not available or puts people at risk. Past efforts to improve state government transparency and accountability have been hampered by process and system problems. Nobody could answer how many trucks the state owns or how much it costs to provide a driver’s license. Managers would retype numbers from the accounting and budget systems into their own ad-hoc spreadsheets to understand their agencies. The Department of Health and Human Services kept personally identifiable information in its invoices.

Few agencies have meaningful measures of their results; fewer still make those measures available online. Without such measures, policymakers and agency managers can make only informed guesses about what works and how to spend tax dollars effectively. The lack of transparency makes it difficult to reform government operations and improve efficiency.

Lawmakers have taken steps to make information more available. A new Office of Program Evaluation Reporting and Accountability (OPERA) was created in 2015 to understand the work of the Department of Health and Human Services, but still has no leadership and has not produced any reports. In 2017, the Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) received funds and direction to implement a Results First initiative with assistance from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the MacArthur Foundation.

North Carolina software company SAS created a new tool for OSBM that allows citizens and government employees to explore or search for spending. OpenBudget has data from fiscal years 2013 through 2017. As of February 2018, it had not been updated with actual revenue and spending for FY 2017 or the FY 2018 budget.

New financial management systems are in the works for state agencies, community colleges, public schools, and the UNC system that could help answer questions about how well programs work and how cost-effective they are. If successfully implemented, these systems would integrate with one another, providing a single source with detailed information on how the state spends money.

Pay for Success contracts, also known as Social Impact Bonds, can provide another way to build accountability into criminal justice and social services.

Key Facts

  • Until 2009, the governor’s budget proposal would include performance measures. Agencies still have strategic plans and measures, but they are not systematically collected, analyzed, or connected to spending decisions.
  • Financial systems in state government were designed to produce specific reports, not to provide performance analytics for management.
  • Few programs at any level of government have been evaluated for effectiveness. Performance-based contracts have led to disputes over measurement and outcomes.

Recommendations

  1. Develop meaningful outcome measures for state agencies and hold them accountable for their results. Although state agencies have multiple missions that can seem disconnected from one another, each mission has programs with definable outcomes and performance measures. These measures should be considered while formulating budgets and should be presented with the budget.
  2.  Fund and implement transparency with new and updated software systems. North Carolina should expand NCOpenBook.gov to provide transaction-level detail updated daily with spending and revenue for all of state government. Each state agency should provide easy access to its transaction information on every page of its website.
  3.  Experiment with Pay for Success (PFS) contracts. PFS contracts are public-private partnerships in the human services that measure results of interventions compared to targets over a set period. Initial funding comes from a foundation, investors, or a mix of private sources. If the project meets or exceeds those targets, the government provides a success payment and continues the program.

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