by Kristen Cox, Executive Director
In preparing the Governor’s budget recommendations, the GOMB staff had the opportunity to review a multitude of budget requests. While a number of requests were meritorious at face value, many did not answer the key questions decision makers or the public would expect to be addressed when justifying requests for additional funds. What follows are four questions that, if answered thoroughly, will strengthen a request for new money.
1. Is the request for new money focused on outcomes or activities?
Distinguishing the difference between outcomes and activities is a common challenge with budget requests. Defining the result an entity wants to ultimately achieve and how a set of activities will accomplish the end goal is the real game changer. Doing so is easier said than done. Defining a result and having the data sources to track progress takes time and work; however, it is the only way to truly justify an investment of taxpayer dollars. For example, an organization could cite “conduct outreach” as an activity that would occur with new money. A stronger justification would be for the organization to articulate the impact outreach activities would have such as reduce noncompliance by a certain percent—articulating that outreach activities are strategies that will help reduce noncompliance.
2. Is there any internal capacity that could meet the need?
Prior to asking for new money, organizations should demonstrate that existing resources and business processes are maximized. This requires a consistent and disciplined practice of on-going improvements, internal evaluations, data, and the internal infrastructure to support such efforts. In our experience, most systems have hidden capacity that can be untapped with the right tools and practices. At GOMB, we use a set of tools called the SUCCESS Framework to help organizations find hidden capacity. Not only is finding hidden capacity the right thing to do, but agencies and organizations that look first to solving problems with existing capacity build credibility among decision makers.
3. How should program success be defined?
We should always be mindful of the relationship that costs, quality, and capacity to meet demand have on each other. A system at peak performance is one that is able to meet customer demand with high quality and as efficiently as possible. Focusing on just one of these three elements at the expense of, or without knowledge of the impact to, other performance areas is non-productive. In fact, such a mindset can actually decrease overall performance over time. For example, if an organization rolls out an initiative to improve quality but in doing so ties up resources in a way that customer demand cannot be met and backlogs occur, the system will eventually experience serious problems with both quality and capacity to meet demand. Requests for new money must account for and consider the impact to the entire system. GOMB’s performance measure approach accounts for overall system performance. The goal of any organization should be to become better, faster, and cheaper. In doing so, the organization should be able to articulate in any budget request how the new investment will help support the overall objective.
4. How will a new program or initiative be evaluated?
When promoting a new program or service, articulating how the service will be evaluated is key. Will the organization use random control trials, propensity scoring, logic models, or some other method for determining program success? Having a clear and rigorous plan in place will provide decision makers with confidence that there will be a way to determine if the program is successful and if it merits continued funding moving forward. GOMB is currently building out tools to assist agencies in this effort.
With limited taxpayer dollars and a seemingly endless demand for new money, it is critical that organizations and decision makers increasingly demonstrate a clear and compelling justification for new funding. Building out the infrastructure, expertise, and data to create strong business justifications is a detailed process that likely won’t happen overnight. However, the effort is worth its weight in gold. The question we should all ask ourselves is if the need for funding is so great that we would be willing to ask our neighbor to set aside a portion of income to fund the activity through taxes.