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MANAGEMENT UPDATE.

VERMONT’S OPPORTUNITY TO IMPROVE ACCOUNTABILITY AND PERFORMANCE

Vermont’s 2023 Summer Government Accountability Committee released its final report and recommendations on accountability and performance management on December 13. Attention to performance management is not new in Vermont. In 2014, the legislature passed Act 186, known as the “Outcomes Bill”, which resulted in an annual report of outcomes for Vermont residents, tied to population-level information.


These new recommendations are particularly notable in light of the propensity of many other states and localities to establish a performance and oversight process, regarding the job as done even if it’s flawed.  



While the executive branch will continue to produce the annual outcomes report, Act 186 itself was sunset in 2023 by the legislature, which found it unhelpful in guiding policy decisions or in assessing the impact of past legislative actions.  Criticism of the annual report’s effectiveness has also come from State Auditor Doug Hoffer, who cited a variety of shortcomings in a January 2022 report, which questioned the usefulness of judging state funding and service outcomes through population data that is affected by multiple external factors. 


“We wanted an opportunity to start fresh,” Vermont Rep. Jessica Brumsted, co-chair of the summer committee, told us. “We’re saying it’s important for us to look back before we move forward and that it’s important to have real data to help us do that.”


In four meetings over the summer, the committee heard from the National Conference of State Legislatures; explored accountability and performance efforts across seven states and took an especially close look at New Mexico where the Legislative Finance Committee has won plaudits, including an Organizational Leadership Award from ASPA’s Center for Accountability and Performance, for its analytical approach to program evaluation, its attention to agency performance and accountability, and its ability to provide information to legislators to aid their decision-making.


With about 60 house and senate members turning over every couple of years, the summer committee was intent on building an accountability and performance infrastructure that could be sustained as legislators and governors changed. There was also a clear underlying concern that whatever new systems were developed should have direct use to the legislature and help it to regularly assess whether the impact and intent of its policy and funding decisions were carried out by the executive branch. 


“If we pass a bill, let’s make sure we know the goals and whether we’re achieving them,” said Brumsted. “Let’s make sure we know what kind of data we need to understand that; what it will cost to collect that data and who will collect it?”


Report recommendations include: 


  • Defining a policy, planning and program evaluation staff function for the General Assembly (with sufficient staff to make that work)

  • Creating a Joint Oversight and Accountability Committee.

  • Adjusting the timing of programmatic and performance measurement reporting to increase their usefulness.

  • Providing performance notes for priority legislation (as well as legislation with higher cost) with a clear indication of goals, and the data needed to measure results and evaluate the legislation’s effect.

  •  Training for legislators on government accountability, including data-informed decision-making, measuring outcomes and utilizing performance notes attached to legislation.


The 2024 legislative session, which started on January 3, will determine the funding available to carry out the committee’s ambitious recommendations, which will require additions to Vermont’s very small legislative staff.  Brumsted, a Democrat, seems confident that the full legislature is on board, and that her Republican co-chair, Sen. Randy Brock, is as adamant as she about the importance of the accountability and performance improvements.


 “In the districts, the public wants to be sure that the government is spending their money the way they want it to be spent,” she said. “It’s very hard to imagine that people would vote against this.”


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