Budgeting and Forecasting

The Challenges and Promise of Program Budgeting


There are many reasons to consider adopting program budgeting,1 but perhaps the most important is its ability to create a more transparent budget. A program budget shows exactly what the government does and how much it costs.

A program budget is meaningful to the governing board and the public because programs are directly relevant to how they experience public services. A program budget is organized into service areas, rather than just departments, objects of expenditure, and line items.

Budget discussions about police patrols and tree services, for example, are more meaningful than discussions about salary, benefit, commodity, and contractual service costs in the budgets of the police and public works departments.

Program budgets also clarify trade-offs between different spending options. When there are no new revenues, if the budget for police patrols is to be increased, then the budget of another program, like tree services, will need to be reduced.

This article provides recommendations for developing a program budgeting and how to overcome common implementation challenges.