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Working Paper

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An examination of the history of budget reform in the United States indicates a perpetual tug of war between the executive and legislative branches of government for power. But surprisingly, in spite of this highly charged political process, there exists a consistent and common thread of concern for improving government performance and a desire to inject more “rationality” (measurement and evaluation) into budgeting decisions. In the past century, U.S. federal budget reforms have been centralizing (the Budget Act of 1921), activity-based (performance budgeting of the 1950s), focused on program evaluation (PPBS in the 1960s), management-oriented (MBO in the early 1970s), bottom-up (ZBB in the mid-1970s), draconian (Gramm-Rudman-Hollings of the 1980s), and concerned with results (GPRA in the 1990s). Unfortunately, establishing a direct link between and among performance measurement, program evaluation and final appropriations remains elusive. In the U.S. today, the stakes have become too significant and entrenched. The sheer size of the U.S. federal budget as well as the dramatic change in the nature of federal expenditures (from predominantly supporting government administration to funding transfer payments to individuals) ups the ante of the politics of the public budgeting process. Perhaps more importantly, the overwhelming U.S. federal deficit and debt simply overshadow consideration of performance as the President and Congress mull over literally billions of dollars in cuts to the current and next fiscal year budgets.


International Center for Public Policy Working Paper Series #1112, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.

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