Policy Analysis and Public Management in an Age of Scarcity: The Challenges of Assessing Effectiveness and Efficiency
For many years, the private sector has operated under the mantra of "do more with less", as companies have responded to competitive pressures and a challenging global economy by trying to wring greater productivity out of scarce resources. Now the public sector has moved into an era with severely constrained budgets, and even a broad economic recovery is unlikely to fully resolve this predicament. Since the economic downturn started near the end of 2007, most states and many local entities in the U.S. have grappled with the need to constrain government-sponsored services to balance budgets in a setting with declining revenues. At the federal level, budget deficits have expanded dramatically because of rising expenditures and declining revenues. However, there is a growing political commitment in the U.S. to constrain government spending as part of plans for reversing the expansion of the federal debt. Similarly, the financial crisis in Europe is leading governments there to contemplate ways to scale back their spending, and some of them have already taken steps that could inform the U.S. and other nations. Across the globe, the key questions have evolved from whether cuts will be made to which programs to cut, how much to cut, and when the cuts will begin.
This new age of scarce public resources provides the context in which APPAM members will contribute to the public policy process in 2012 and beyond. The need to make critical decisions regarding spending priorities and constraints places a greater premium on effective policy design, policy analysis, and public management. With respect to public management, the trend has been toward improved measurement, enhanced efficiency, and greater accountability for results. Similarly, in policy making there has been an increased effort in recent years to tie policy assessments to existing evidence regarding program performance. In the U.S., the current administration has amplified the focus on evidence in driving policy and public management, intending to create a culture whereby agencies identify and sustain effective programs or practices, eliminate or fix ineffective ones, and find lower-cost ways to achieve positive impacts. But assessing program effectiveness and efficiency is a complex challenge, and APPAM’s mission is to address that challenge by using research, analysis, and education to inform better deployment and management of public resources. As we pursue our mission, we seek to focus on important policy questions and expand the participation of practitioners and policymakers in APPAM to enhance the relevance and impact of our work and inform the policy process. At our 2012 Fall Research Conference in Baltimore, we will have an opportunity to examine the evolving needs of the policy community and to demonstrate how APPAM can help the nation better manage our public resources.