A top lawmaker on Wednesday called for immediate review of the measures state agencies use to gauge performance in Gov. Kenny Guinn's proposed budget.
"If you don't know what you're doing, why are you there?" asked Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno.
Half the agencies' performance indicators examined by legislative auditors in 2001 were determined by the auditors to be unreliable.
Raggio asked state Budget Director Perry Comeaux to advise departments to take a fresh look at how they measure their performance before defending their spending plans to the Senate Finance committee.
Comeaux said "very few" of the indicators can be used to determine a department's budget and that he has not traditionally relied on them. However, he added that some do quantify "what are we getting for what we're spending."
"That's what the public wants to know," Raggio responded.
Gov. Kenny Guinn's requested budget, including about $1 billion in new taxes, must be justified to the public, Raggio said, adding, "Without meaningful performance indicators, I'm not sure we can do that."
Comeaux said he sent a memo to all agency heads Wednesday noting Raggio's concerns. He said most departments are getting better at developing the measures.
A separate review of measures used by four departments was requested late last year by the Legislative Commission. It will be released to the Senate and Assembly money committees within two weeks.
At issue are various statistics and percentages that agencies can use to justify their current budget or a request for increased funding. Some relate more directly to workload than agency actions, while others list numbers that may seem out of a department's control.
Performance indicator No. 23 for the Department of Corrections is the number of escapes per year. There were 19 in 2002, and the department expects zero over the next two fiscal years. The Department of Motor Vehicles counts its Internet site updates or revisions.
The transportation agency measures highway maintenance costs per mile, state-funded museums list their yearly visitor head count, and the child welfare division tallies the number of adoptions per year in Nevada.
Discussion of the performance measures arose during an overview of the Legislative Counsel Bureau's recent audits of state agencies.
State agencies have been required to include performance measures in their spending plan for a decade, but many are inaccurate due to lack of oversight and sloppy calculations or data collection, said Legislative Auditor Paul Townsend.
"It's been a learning experience on how good they are. It's evolving," Townsend said.
Of 35 measures examined during the past biennium, auditors said 15 lacked sufficient data to back them up. Others, including the Northern Nevada Child and Adolescent Services, used flawed procedures to identify their performance.
A 2001 audit found that the agency overstated its waiting list by about 40 percent by including people who had inquired about services but never followed up by setting an appointment.