Utah, Virginia, and Washington: Top Scorers in Government Performance in the United States

Posted by Mario Pessoa 

According to research sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts in partnership with Governing magazine, the states Utah, Virginia, and Washington have the best managed administrations in the US. They all scored A- in a recent study—on a scale from D to A.

The State of Utah scored the highest A- (A minus). Utah makes use of strategic planning combined with performance measurement, has good coordination between executive and legislature, keeps a low level of public debt, and maintains a sustainable pension fund for public employees. Overall, it provides a large amount of data on the performance of programs and agencies.

The main strengths of the State of Washington are its leadership in result-based governance, high-level statewide monitoring of key performance indicators of the civil service work force, sophisticated economic and budgetary forecasting capabilities, good matching between budget targets and performance objectives, and also a well-funded pension system despite a relatively high level of government debt.

Virginia scored well in the study because policies and programs are based on a well-managed long-term strategic plan, performance measures guide budget and management decisions, and the state, reportedly, uses high-quality employees and information technology without excessive expense.

The three states provide some examples of very good performance of public administration below the federal level. Conducted since 2005 as part of the Government Performance Project, the Grading the States report is an assessment of the quality of government management in the 50 American states. The performance is measured against a ten-grade scale ranging from A to D and along four dimensions: (i) money; (ii) people; (iii) infrastructure; and (iv) information (management).

From the PFM point of view, the “money” and “information” dimensions are the most relevant components. “Money” measures how: (i) the state uses a long-term perspective to make budget decisions; (ii) the state’s budget process is transparent, easy to follow, and inclusive; (iii) the state’s financial management activities support structural balance between ongoing revenues and expenditures; (iv) the state’s procurement activities are conducted efficiently and supported with effective internal controls; and (v) the state systematically assesses the effectiveness of its financial operations and management.

The “information” dimension is concentrated in issues such as: (i) does the state actively focus on directing future policy and collecting information to support future challenges; (ii) do elected officials, the state budget office, and agency personnel have appropriate data on the relationship between costs and performance, and do they use this data when making resource-allocation decisions; (iii) do agency managers have the appropriate information required to make program-management decisions; (iv) do the governor and agency managers have appropriate data that enable them to assess the actual performance of policies and programs; and finally, but unimportantly, (v) does the public have appropriate access to information about the state budget, the performance of state programs and state services and does the public have the opportunity to provide inputs to the policy and governance process.

The Grading the States report provides a comprehensive overview of strengths and weaknesses of each state administration, presents recommendations for improvement, and is a good source of information on good practice on public administration.

You can read more on the performance methodologies and individual state reports on the following webpage: http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/gpp_report_card.aspx

Note: The posts on the IMF PFM Blog should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF or IMF policy.