Taxpayers want accountability and transparency from federal, state and local governments so, these days, it is not at all uncommon to hear government officials make such pledges. As a result, we are seeing Web sites such as www.govresults.com
arise in the public sector, and www.PerformanceWeb.org
in the private sector, giving information about the use (or misuse) of “government”—read that, “taxpayer”—money.
In truth, it is a budgeting strategy that has been around since the 1950s, but it is only lately that “transparency” has become a goal of governments, and that is because taxpayers are demanding it. Long-term budgeting or zero-based budgeting starts with the bare facts and accounts for every dollar and where it is spent. The goal of such detail is to examine why the dollar is spent, what its spending is trying to accomplish, and whether that goal was achieved.
That kind of budgeting and accounting can be difficult and time consuming, but it does tell taxpayers that their money is being used properly. Philosophically, it is based on honesty, but it is now also the law at some levels, including the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993.
“Timely reporting” has become the byword, with reports from those receiving funds, grants and other financial resources required within specific time frames and with specific detail. For police administrators, this means that data reporting requirements may need adjusting, depending on the source of the money—the state or county’s requirements for budget reporting, the grantor’s requirements for grant money, and so on.
Not everything will be tied to the police agency’s fiscal year. Some reporting is done more frequently, or less. Develop a timeline of obligations and requirements, and have a reporting system in place for each of them, following the guidelines for such reporting as required by each funding source.
Connect your accounting resources with your agency’s priorities and results. You have raw data about what is being received and what is being spent, but tie that data into true “reporting” to show how resources match your agency’s priorities and projects. Show how the structure of your spending is being applied to improvement and results. Demonstrate where the money is most effective, and where money needs to be pulled away from ineffective projects.
In other words, in your reports, put the emphasis on results, good and bad. That’s the accountability that government and private funding sources are seeking. It is akin to what the business world would call “productivity.” Measuring that productivity is the “transparency” funding sources want to show taxpayers and donors.
It is all about seeing if government spending, programs and grant projects are meeting their objectives. That means, from the top down, planning in your agency must be for results. Goals, objectives, strategies, initiatives and your agency’s resources, including money, must be targeted toward measuring activities and their output, so that taxpayers and grantors see the impact your work has and the outcomes that improve situations. In essence, you move budgeting toward results-oriented planning so that achievement, and work toward achievement, can be measured and reported.
Your agency’s performance will be judged on its control over the money, the effect the spending has, and the emphasis that might stay the same or shift to achieve consistent or better results. Although we think of competition as an idea of the business world, it also applies to government agencies because the public sector does compete with other agencies, programs and strategies. Demonstrating the link between your budget and your strategies to achieve goals is key.
The emphasis is on results. Design your budget reports with that in mind so that you can show objective data that is both accurate, and a source of information about your achievements. This adjustment might be innovative for your agency, but it is what will prove your agency’s mission, demonstrate how money is matched to that mission and your projects, and show the taxpayers that their expectations are being considered and met by continuing the good, and eliminating that which does not work toward successes. Stephenie Slahor, Ph.D., J.D., writes in the fields of law enforcement and security. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.