My recent letter bringing attention to the lack of accountability and outcome measures ("State must measure how well funds spent," July 9) resulted in a Massachusetts agency director inviting me in for a talk in his office. I accepted the invitation and found that this administrator was professional and respectful; I liked him.
I brought with me a Power Point presentation outlining how to measure outcomes. My criticism has been that we know how much we are spending, an output, but we have no idea if our tax dollars are producing the desired effects, the outcomes.
You don't need me to tell you that statistics and research are boring - they are - however, they are essential to public administration if you want to know if what the government is doing is effective or not.
As it turns out, my meeting with this agency head confirmed for me what I previously wrote about - they really are not assessing the impact of our tax dollars. Not only are they not measuring if they are successful (even though they claim to be successful) but this agency head told me he doesn't even have a unit to assess success.
Sure, budgets are tight and there are cuts everywhere, but my question is: who then gives you the foundation to claim success? Moreover, with all of the professionals receiving an unemployment check, you mean to tell me you can't pull together a small unit of people who have the right research skills to do this kind of work?
I was told that "the fact that people aren't going to jail is a success." It is good people aren't going to jail but, respectfully, that is a very low standard.
The public relations manager told me that they have stories of success which acts as their evidence. Recognizing this is how they have been claiming success, I firmly responded that such stories are subjective, anecdotal and have no objective measurement component; hence they tell us nothing about the outcomes of our tax dollars.
The director asked me how we could measure outcomes but, as I proceeded to explain, I was told that it isn't practical for the government to do this (it's resource intensive) and that it is a question for academics.
I told this administrator that I respectfully disagreed because if the government is going to spend our tax dollars and claim success and transparency, they had better have the data to back up such assertions. Moreover, when I explained what a "random assignment evaluation" is - just one of many ways to assess success - it was dismissed as something a "monkey" could do. He heard random and thought haphazard. It was clear to me that this administrator doesn't know anything about outcome evaluations because a random assignment is the gold standard in evaluations and the most difficult to implement.
The science of measurement is complicated and boring, but the results, if properly measured, are what every taxpayer wants to hear about.
Broadly speaking, while some administrators may think that doing something is better than nothing, I say that if you are going to do something, do it right. And if you are not doing anything, at least be honest with yourself because the public knows you are not being frank with them, anyway.
PAUL HEROUX of Attleboro is a candidate at Harvard University's JFK School of Government for a master's of public administration.