Posted by Bill Dorotinsky
A perennial question of annual public budgeting for Ministries of Finance and legislatures, and the general public, is "What are we getting for the money?" It is the proverbial "black box" of annual spending, where funds are allocated by traditional line-item budgets to agencies, but there is no sense of what the money actually achieves. While under line-item budgeting, budget offices know what inputs are being purchased, there is no clear indication of what activities, purposes, or objectives -- or ultimately outputs or outcomes -- are being purchased, or how government policies translate into spending. A common first step for many countries towards opening the black box of spending is to adopt a program classification of spending, and introduce program budgeting. A program classification is often thought of as a first step in introducing a performance orientation into the budget process.
While sounding like a very dry, technical exercise, the reality of successful introduction of program budgeting is more complex, involving elements of change management across government. Various governments across the globe have been introducing program budgets over many decades, including within the past decade in Russia, Brazil, and more recently, the Republic of Korea (RoK). A recent book by the Korean Institute of Public Finance and the World Bank, From Line-item to Program Budgeting (John Kim, Editor; Seoul, 2007), summarizes some key lessons from the global experience, and offers practical advice to countries embarking on this journey.