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Agency accountability plan draws skeptics

BISMARCK -- The Legislature's plan to impose an accountability system on state agencies got a chilly reception Tuesday from the governor's office and budget officials.

BISMARCK -- The Legislature's plan to impose an accountability system on state agencies got a chilly reception Tuesday from the governor's office and budget officials.

Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple and OMB analyst Sheila Peterson told the House Appropriations Committee the proposed performance-based budgeting has been tried before and didn't work well.

The proposal, House Bill 1497, championed by House Majority Leader Rick Berg, R-Fargo, and Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo.

The idea is to keep state agencies focused on results that citizens expect and can understand, Carlson said. If implemented, agencies will have strategic plans, performance measures and a results reporting system available to the public.

"We have been down that road of performance measures before," Dalrymple told the committee.


It was about eight years ago. He was chairman of House Appropriations before being elected lieutenant governor in 2000. "One of the things we found out from that, I believe is, that information for information's sake is not very valuable," he said.

When legislators went to performance-based budgeting before, they were not satisfied with the information because they didn't find it useful, he said. That method can be expensive without accomplishing much, Dalrymple said.

The meeting took on a civics lesson quality when Dalrymple said that while the Legislature sets policies and spending levels and "to a certain extent has a helping role in designing programs ... there is a point at which it has to be understood the executive branch does have the responsibility of carrying out the programs."

Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, asked Dalrymple why several other states that have gone to performance standards have succeeded with no apparent problems with the separation of powers.

Dalrymple admonished him, "It's probably counterproductive to go down that road in executive versus legislative ... I really think that works better in a high school debate class."

Koppelman told Dalrymple he was only responding to the lieutenant governor's earlier comments about the branches of government. Dalrymple said the problem with North Dakota modeling itself after other states is that those states "have completely and totally lost control" of large state agencies.

Peterson, speaking for interim state budget director Pam Sharp, said OMB did a pilot project on performance based budgeting in the 1990s and found "too much process, too much information."

It required too much focus on inputs and outputs and not enough focus on real outcome measures, she said.


"It was too labor intensive, involved gathering of information for the sake of more information, was quite complicated and too detailed for users to quickly understand," Peterson said, quoting Sharp.

HB 1497 mirrors the 1990s' project, Peterson said, and most state agencies already follow strategic plans and have set themselves performance measures that they use. The bill could duplicate what is already being done, according to OMB.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830

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