July 20, 2011
In many of its past reports, the Civic Federation has recommended that local governments integrate performance management into their budgeting process and make that information public.
In the Cook County Modernization Report released last fall, the Civic Federation recommended that the County make full implementation of performance-based budgeting a priority. The data should be a mix of qualitative and quantitative input, output, efficiency and outcome data. Performance measures should relate to departmental goals and objectives. The Federation noted that these reports would offer policy-makers objective information with which they could improve operations, reduce unnecessary or inefficient expenditures and prioritize spending. These reports would also enhance transparency and accountability to the public.
In January 2011, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle introduced the Performance Based Management and Budgeting Ordinance which mandates that each department and agency, including the offices of the other County elected officials, prepare quarterly reports identifying goals and performance benchmarks. Since the STAR review sessions began, important policies and procedures have been implemented to improve the County’s fiscal responsibility, including the creation of a Financial Data Handbook and managerial training, increased visibility of available funds to control “roll over” purchasing and the creation of attendance tracking tools to manage absence from work.
In July the County published the first of the STAR quarterly reports. The report includes a Performance Summary and Performance by Office report for the period of December 1, 2010 to May 31, 2011 (the first half of the County’s 2011 fiscal year). Among the County departments and agencies, only the Chief Judge did not submit a report. The Performance Summary includes overall goals and performance measurements in five program areas: Finance and Administration, Healthcare, Public Safety, Property and Taxation and Economic Development. The Performance by Office report is a more detailed performance management tool, with specific goals and measurements for departments and agencies, though the Offices of the Public Administrator and Inspector General and the Boards of Elections and Commissioners are not included.
Overall, the STAR Performance Management initiative is a significant step towards providing government services with greater efficiency and increased transparency. Although portions of the current report did not provide much useful information due to insufficient data, future reports will be an important and helpful tool in the budgeting process.
To improve the reports the Civic Federation offers the following recommendations. The Performance by Office report should include aggregated data that shows how the County is performing financially in terms of actual spending to budget targets, similar to the measurements within the Finance and Administration’s program goal to maintain a healthy financial position. In addition, significant variation between actual spending and budget targets throughout the report should include narratives explaining the causes. For example, overtime expenses for the County as a whole are currently fifty percent higher than the budgeted amount. The County explains that this is due to vacancies in the Health and Hospitals System ($9.7 million) and the Sheriff’s Office ($1 million). Similar explanations should be provided when necessary throughout the report.
The following exhibit shows examples of department goals and measurements from the Cook County Performance by Office report.