Is Program Evaluation Important to Federal Departments and Agencies?

Posted by Ed Dieterle on 10/9/15 10:23 AM

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yesOver the past decade, the Federal Government has increasingly tied agency budgets to the impacts of their programs. The 2014 Economic Report of the President argued:

“Evaluating Federal programs and interventions to understand their impact, and developing the infrastructure within agencies to support a sustained level of high-quality evaluations, is an Administration priority.” 

By rigorously testing which programs and interventions are most effective at achieving important goals, the government can (a) improve its programs; (b) scale up the approaches that work best; and (c) discontinue those that are less effective.

Even so, Federal agencies' capacity for evaluating their programs–and effectively using the results of these evaluations–remains uneven. In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office showed that only 7 of 24 surveyed Federal agencies had central leaders responsible for evaluation. Perhaps more concerning is that 7 other agencies reported having had no recent evaluations of their performance goals. 

In 2015, the U.S. Executive Office issued four program evaluations priorities for fiscal year 2016:

  1. Make better use of already-collected data within government agencies
  2. Promote the use of high-quality, low-cost evaluations and rapid, iterative experimentation
  3. Adopt more evidence-based structures for grant programs
  4. Build agency evaluation capacity and developing tools to better communicate what works (see "Fiscal Year 2016 Analytical Perspectives of the U.S. Government" for more detail)

Discretionary budgets continue to tighten and departments and agencies are required to justify their programs and budgets. Program evaluation can provide the evidence agencies and the Federal government at large need to make informed decisions about continuing, improving, or expanding programs.

In this six-part blog series, members of Summit’s Program Evaluation Team provide an overview of program evaluation. Topics will include the following:

  • Logic models
  • Using administrative data for program evaluation
  • Major types of evaluation
  • Net impact analysis

Stay tuned to the Summit Blog for next week’s post on program evaluation logic models!

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Note:  For more on the history of evidence-based budgets, see David Bornstein, “The Dawn of the Evidence-Based Budget,” New York Times 2012.

Topics: program evaluation

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