A guest opinion by Jim Jones and Bruce Newcomb, about the Idaho state Office of Performance Evaluations.
There has been talk of reducing legislative support for the Legislature’s independent and nonpartisan Office of Performance Evaluations (OPE), which has been nationally recognized for its excellent work. The OPE has provided the Idaho Legislature with valuable information about the effectiveness of a variety of governmental programs. We believe it would be a mistake to reduce financial support for the OPE, change its mission, or take away its independence.
The OPE was established in 1994 to provide the Legislature with in-depth research regarding the workings of governmental programs, whether they were achieving their objectives and how they might be made more efficient. The programs to be examined and evaluated are selected by the bipartisan Joint Legislative Oversight Committee (JLOC).
Prior to the establishment of the OPE, performance audits were periodically made of all governmental agencies, regardless of how they were functioning. The reviews were fairly superficial and did not specifically target programs that appeared to be struggling to attain their objectives. The OPE has been able to better inform legislative decision-making by identifying problem areas in important programs and suggesting alternatives to eliminate them.
It is important to have an oversight committee with an equal-party balance to identify problem areas for investigation. When those having different policy outlooks can agree on the programs that do not appear to be cost-effective and efficient, it makes sense to focus attention on those programs. The investigations by the OPE are fact driven, leaving it to the Legislature to adopt policies to address the problems identified.
The OPE has worked on quite a number of programs that were perceived to be struggling and has been able to give the Legislature the information it needs to fix them--improving operations at the Idaho Transportation Department, strengthening public contracting practices, reforming Idaho’s foster care system, increasing efficiencies in the parole process, recommending that the Legislature and Department of Health and welfare develop a long-term vision and plan for taking care of individuals with intellectual disabilities, and proposing a number of improvements in Idaho’s public education system.
The OPE has received national recognition for its forward-looking, problem-solving work, including awards for excellence from the National Legislative Evaluation Society, the American Society for Public Administration and the American Evaluation Association. Its investigations have helped the Legislature to identify how to spend taxpayer dollars in the most effective manner to meet desired legislative goals.
Some have suggested that OPE resources should be diverted to the legislative budget-writing committee to provide quicker, less in-depth answers as to where state revenues should be spent. We think that would be a mistake. Evidence-based spending decisions are essential in this time of growing problems and shrinking resources. There is a place for quick and dirty decision-making but it should not supplant the deliberative approach that has been so effective with the OPE. Why throw out or hamstring an office that is working and producing results for the benefit of taxpayers? If it ain’t broke, it don’t need fixin’.
Bruce Newcomb served 20 years in the Idaho House of Representatives, including eight years as Speaker. Representative Newcomb, a Republican, and Senator Bruce Sweeney, a Democrat, served as first co-chairs of JLOC.
Jim Jones served 8 years as Idaho Attorney General and 12 years as a Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court.