Improving Program Design

Recommendations and Actions

What Can be Done to Develop and Promulgate Program Design?

Program design criteria are merely the foundation for more efficient and effective federal programs. To establish a credible discipline of program design, the criteria and the technology used in successful design should be developed more fully throughout the federal government. The following are recommendations for developing a formal discipline of program design.

DES03: Encourage the Strengthening of Program Design in the Legislative Branch

To enhance congressional program design performance, the PMC should:

--work with the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to include consideration of program design concepts in all relevant training and materials provided by CRS; and

--encourage the participation of CRS, key congressional staff, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and the General Accounting Office (GAO) in program design courses that are developed under the next action (DES04).

Many, if not most, federal programs originate in Congress. Yet program design as a concept or a function is given scant attention there. Among the offices that participate in the preparation of legislation, varying degrees of emphasis are placed on program design. And there is no general, consistent pattern of the use of these offices. The principal drafters of legislation--the Offices of the Legislative Counsel of the Senate and the House-- while they do not make program policy, generally do provide a legal framework and historical context that provide a basis for the program design process. CRS, GAO, and CBO often play significant roles in providing analyses and information used to prepare legislation and in reviewing and shaping draft legislation, and thus contribute to program design.

CBO's role is generally limited to analysis of the fiscal implications of proposed legislation. Evaluation of cost-effectiveness and efficiency of a proposed program as well as its financial viability might be an appropriate expansion of the traditional CBO role. CRS also offers extensive training programs and provides research materials to congressional staff on a wide range of subjects, many of which could have significant program design implications. If all these offices were able and willing to provide expert advice on program design, members and staff of Congress would be better equipped to apply the recommended program design criteria.

Strengthening program design capabilities and encouraging greater use of available resources in the legislative branch would not only improve program design, it would also enhance the formulation of programs by framing the debates which occur on and off the floors of both Houses. Ideally, the individuals developing program design in Congress would cooperate on the design of new programs as well as share expertise concerning tools of public action and obstacles to solid program design. This cooperation would also be extended by congressional offices and staff to the executive branch at the agency level and to the Executive Office of the President and could perhaps reduce some of the traditional friction between these two branches of government.[Endnote 2]

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