Oklahoma finance secretary: Performance needs to be emphasized in state budget

BY PRESTON L. DOERFLINGER Published: January 27, 2013
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When I ask these questions, I'm usually told: “We've always done it this way.” That's a sad answer. Businesses would never operate so capriciously, yet it's standard at the Capitol, where the budget is typically developed and evaluated based solely on whatever it was last year.

“Is it 3 percent more?”

“Five percent less?”

“Flat?”

“Spending shrunk! That's bad! Or is it good?”

Numbers and pontification abound, yet there's rarely any deliberative discussion of performance, or what these numbers actually do and mean. Performance-based budgeting would change that. It shifts the conversation from raw numbers to detailed outcomes so policymakers can budget for results instead of just chasing arbitrary figures. It encourages innovation instead of merely maintaining status quo.

The Office of Management and Enterprise Services already uses it to manage state agency insurance costs by consistently measuring insurance policy performance to set spending levels, enabling $25 million in savings over the past eight years. Expanding this philosophy statewide would reinvent the entire budget ritual for the better.

Granted, Oklahoma can't change overnight; it'll take time to reach our light bulb moment. But we can and will get there under Thomas Edison's belief that in all things, “There's a way to do it better — find it.”

Doerflinger is the governor's Cabinet secretary of finance and revenue and director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.