CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While "Moneyball" is a well known term to movie goers and sports enthusiasts, it was unknown to me. Its connotation, I've learned, originated in professional baseball, specifically with the Oakland A's, its general manager Billy Beane, and the team's limited budget for payroll when compared with such teams as the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
Beane concluded that if his team were to compete with the big boys he would have to spend the team's scarce resources in a more effective way. That he did successively, in the words of authors Peter Orszag and John Bridgeland, "with data-intensive studies of what skills actually contribute most to winning," as opposed to relying on "scouts' traditional beliefs and biases about players."
Thus, when the two authors inquire in a recent Atlantic magazine whether government can play moneyball, they are asking, if the federal government in a new era of fiscal scarcity spend its revenues to secure more effective results.
Orszag and Bridgeland answer "yes," by, for example, linking evaluation to program funding, such as reserving 1 percent of program spending, say for improving education, reducing crime or bolstering health, for evaluation to make sure the program actually works.
As things are now, "once [federal] legislation is passed and a program is up and running, there is no mechanism for automatically tracking its effectiveness, beyond counting the number of people served by a program, no matter the impact it has on their lives."
(As this article is being written, it is reported that the National Research Council, in a nonpartisan academic report, concluded that the U.S. government is losing billions on "inefficient" tax subsidies that don't curb climate change.)
The co-authors, Orszag and Bridgeland, are qualified to speak to the subject they address, having been, respectively, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Barack Obama, and the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President George W. Bush.
Determining the "effectiveness" of this or that is very much in vogue today in a variety of contexts. Some examples: In how a candidate or a product is marketed, especially on television; in evaluating teachers to determine their effectiveness in improving student achievement; and in determining whether a candidate for employment will likely add value to the enterprise.
The need for standards, assessments (evaluations) and accountability in making sure that scarce resources are being spent wisely, effectively and are producing intended results at the federal level apply equally to programs and budgeting of the State of West Virginia.
State legislation directing "post audits" and "performance reviews" of state agencies does not require determinations of how well the appropriations to them are producing results in the public interests that justify their continuance.
The legislation (a) does not address the Legislature's admission about itself that "state agencies have been created without demonstrable evidence that their benefits to the public clearly justify their creation"; (b) does not require any determination or recommendation as to whether benefits to the public clearly justify an agency's creation or continuance; (c) limits performance reviews to agencies of nine departments in the executive branch of state government (thus excluding reviews, for example, of the Department of Education); (d) does not clearly define what agencies of the nine departments are subject to performance reviews; and (e) does not, with respect to performance reviews, match the scope of the "review" with the scope of required recommendations and the scope of a department's own presentation about itself.
The need for such on-going evaluations of how wisely public funds are being appropriated and spent should be a self-evident maxim required of fiduciaries, the Legislature and the whole of the executive branch of state government in these instances, which stand in a special relation of trust and responsibility in their obligations to the public.
The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and the United Way of Central West Virginia, and other United Ways like it, are also fiduciaries holding the funds of their contributors in trust. However, unlike the State, these charitable organizations, to their credit, undertake in a post review of grants to determine how effective they have been in achieving their proclaimed intent, particularly if the recipients seek additional grants.