Lawmakers Try Out New Ways Of Assessing Impact Of State Dollars

Jan 23, 2019

Thanks to a law passed two years ago, Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office is now required to periodically create what are known as performance-based budget reports on state agencies—basically, analyses measuring program funding against actual outcomes.

A legislative board formed to assess those reports held its first-ever hearing Tuesday.

The IFO focused on the Corrections Department this time around. Its key takeaways included a list of new data points for the department to track, broken into 13 categories like assessing public safety risk, parole supervision, and alcohol and drug treatment.

The parole category saw some of the most significant recommendations, like recording parole officers’ average caseloads and reporting the number of parolees who are monitored electronically.

Other recommendations include measuring the number of inmates assessed for alcohol and drug treatment against those who actually receive treatment, tracking whether in-prison education and vocational training impacts recidivism, and monitoring the percentage of sexually violent predators who attend mandatory treatment once they’re released.

Lawmakers are hoping to use this report—and others like it—during the state budgeting process.

Board chair Pat Browne, a Republican who also chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he has previously been frustrated with budgeting because while the state routinely tracked spending efficiency from year to year, it didn’t focus on tailoring spending to agencies’ goals.

“It’s going to be an evolving process,” he said. “There’s going to be an evolving understanding as to what this is…you’ve got to think differently than we have in the past.”

The report wasn’t supposed to focus on policy, but along with the data recommendations, the IFO included a few extra suggestions that would likely require legislative action.

A key one is boosting data collection from counties on services like probation oversight, since they overlap with the DOC and vary widely.

DOC Secretary John Wetzel says he would support that, though added he thinks the state would need to chip in cash.  

“I think it would benefit counties to do a better job of collecting data consistently,” he said. “I think from the state’s standpoint, we should invest in that.”

The board will review agency spending on a rotating basis every five years.

Its next hearing is later this week and will focus on the Departments of General Services and Banking and Securities, plus a number of tax credits.