Results for America’s 2022 Federal Standard of Excellence Highlights Nine Leading Federal Agencies for Increasingly Investing in What Works
WASHINGTON, DC – At an event today with senior Congressional and federal agency leaders on Capitol Hill, Results for America released the 2022 Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence, which highlights the progress that nine leading federal agencies have made in building and using evidence and data to advance economic mobility and racial equity and achieve better results.
“In a climate that rewards convenience and immediacy, it can be difficult to maintain a commitment to follow the research and evidence,” said Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), Chairman of the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee. “However, I remain convinced that with the hard work of Members of Congress, Federal agencies, and groups like Results for America, we can continue to meaningfully improve the lives of students, workers, and families.”
“This critically important work helps give policymakers, including myself, a better understanding of what federal policies work and which do not, so we can ensure taxpayer dollars are used responsibly,” said Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Ranking Member of the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee.
The 2022 Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence assesses how nine federal agencies – which oversaw more than $221 billion in federal funds this year – are building and using the infrastructure necessary to use evidence and data in their budget, policy, and management decisions. Based on a review of each agency’s progress, Results for America recognized:
- Three federal agencies as Gold Certified: the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Agency for International Development;
- Five federal agencies as Silver Certified: AmeriCorps, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Administration for Children and Families (HHS), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (HHS); U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development;
- One federal agency as Bronze Certified: the Administration for Community Living (HHS)
“Year after year, dedicated public servants are accelerating the progress of these federal agencies in building and using evidence and data to advance economic mobility and close racial gaps,” said Michele Jolin, CEO and Co-Founder of Results for America. “By promoting a culture of data-driven decision-making, they are helping the federal government invest in what works and deliver better results for the American people.”
“Our 2022 Federal and State Standards of Excellence have highlighted how federal efforts to define and prioritize evidence of effectiveness in federal grant programs have also led to increased investments in what works at the state level,” said David Medina, COO and Co-Founder of Results for America, referring to the State Standard of Excellence released last month. “These combined efforts to build and use evidence across levels of government are improving lives in communities across the country.”
Highlights of Progress Across the Nine Agencies
Federal agencies have made major strides in shifting toward an “invest in what works” approach.
- Federal agencies are increasingly investing in what works:
- All five of the U.S. Department of Education’s largest competitive grant programs define and prioritize evidence;
- In 2022, 64% of AmeriCorps State and National (ASN) grant funding was invested in programs with moderate to strong evidence of effectiveness;
- SAMHSA’s Community Mental Health Block Grant (MHBG) program sets aside 10% for evidence-based interventions to address the needs of individuals with early serious mental illness.
- Federal agencies that prioritize evidence of effectiveness are influencing the way that states are allocating the federal resources within their state:
- 27 states, for example, have followed AmeriCorps’ lead by focusing on what works in their allocations of federal AmeriCorps State and National program funds (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin); and
- 7 state education agencies have followed the U.S. Department of Education’s lead by defining and prioritizing evidence of effectiveness in their allocation of federal Comprehensive Literacy Development (ED) program grant funds (Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Montana).
- 4 federal agencies highlighted in the 2022 Federal Standard of Excellence invest 1% or more of their program budgets in evaluation-related activities:
- SAMHSA (2%)
- MCC (1.5%)
- USAID (1.1%
- AmeriCorps (1.1%)
- 4 of the agencies in our 2022 Federal Standard, however, saw the percentage of their agency’s budget spent on evaluations, evaluation technical assistance, and evaluation capacity-building, reduced.
- Federal agencies are using the Evidence Act to drive progress in learning and planning: The 2022 Federal Standard documents the positive impact of the Evidence Act on federal agencies’ capacity to create a culture of learning and focus on results. As of 2022, all 9 federal agencies are meeting the Evidence Act Phase 1 Guidance focused on learning agendas, personnel and planning. This year, for example, SAMHSA developed an evidence and evaluation board and regularly held agency wide “data parties” to collaboratively improve the impact of their programs.
- 2023 should see more progress: Two federal agencies moved from bronze to silver status in the 2022 Federal Standard of Excellence. The U.S. Treasury Department’s American Rescue Plan guidance, finalized earlier this year, also authorized and encouraged state and local governments to invest their $350 billion worth of ARP funds in evidence-based solutions and in building and strengthening their evidence and data capacity.
Highlights of Progress at Each Agency
- Administration for Children and Families (ACF within HHS) In 2022, ACF advanced its work in the area of performance management, naming five strategic goals, each with corresponding pilot programs that also have implementation and tracking measures. As of May 2022, every ACF program office has created a strategic plan for how they will advance equity. Building on ACF’s existing Confidentiality Toolkit, the agency also released two case study reports, one of which highlights promising practices for sharing and accessing data and discusses lessons learned related to key activities essential to sharing and accessing data.
- Administration for Community Living (ACL within HHS) is tracking progress over time against its outcome goals, program objectives, outcome measures, and/or program measures which are strongly aligned with the priority goals of the agency strategic plan. As part of its growing efforts to increase the agency’s evidenced-based policy capacity, OPE provides staff training on evidence-based grant making, which will enhance the agency’s ability to invest in better results and outcomes.
- AmeriCorps Over the past several years, AmeriCorps has been a federal government leader in evidence-based investing. In FY22, the agency’s flagship grant program, AmeriCorps State and National, invested the majority of its grants in interventions with a moderate or strong evidence base. AmeriCorps also invested over 1% of its budget on evaluations and released its FY22-26 Strategic Learning and Evidence Building Plan, utilizing its evaluation findings; its first goal is to partner with communities to alleviate poverty and advance racial equity.
- Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Accountability is core to MCC’s organizational culture and this commitment is supported by the agency’s robust investment in research and evaluation at 2% of the agency’s budget in FY22. This year, MCC also launched an Evidence Platform, a one-stop, virtual data enclave that encourages research, learning, and reproducibility, and connects datasets to analytical products across the portfolio.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA within HHS) created a team to improve its impact including a chief data officer, chief evaluation officer, equity officer, and statistical officer; it also developed a SAMHSA-wide Evidence and Evaluation Board and drafted a FY23 Evaluation Plan of ongoing and planned evaluations for the 2023 fiscal year. Beyond that, the agency reported spending 2% of its FY22 agency budget on research, evaluation, and evaluation-related activities, the highest percentages of the nine participating agencies.
- U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) USAID has continued to build its capacity for innovation and evidence-based policymaking. USAID has committed over 1% of its budget in evaluation in FY22 and received recognition from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for its use of prize competitions and challenges to spur innovation, engage non-traditional solvers, address tough problems, and advance their core mission. The OSTP report found that USAID, “stood out as exceptional in both how and why it uses prize competitions and challenges.”
- U.S. Department of Education (ED) In FY22, ED successfully supported states and local school districts in the use of evidence-based practices in pandemic recovery and accelerating learning for all students. ED expanded opportunities for evidence-building in postsecondary programs through a newly-appropriated research and evaluation set-aside. Further, ED published a four-year learning agenda that is included in the agency’s Strategic Plan for FYs 22-26, conducting extensive stakeholder outreach to develop six focus areas, including the impact of COVID-19, increasing equity, and promoting a diverse education workforce.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published its first agency-wide Equity Action Plan, reflecting several agency priorities. These include promoting racial equity in home ownership by addressing discrimination in federal programs, providing federal assistance for first-time buyers, and advancing equity in the administration of homelessness assistance programs. Beyond using its own research to build evidence, HUD provides resources to help states and localities build their own capacity for using evidence and data. Across its multiple programs, HUD incorporates community capacity-building elements to ensure successful program implementation. In FY22, HUD funded $33,000,000 for the department-wide technical assistance programs.
- U.S. Department of Labor In 2022, the DOL Chief Evaluation Office (CEO) developed and publicly released evidence-building plans and assessments. In addition, the aligned FY22-26 Strategic Plan and Evidence Building Plan is available on the department’s website. Performance improvements include updates to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) that allow state and local governments to build their own performance infrastructure by using federal funds for data collection, performance management, research, and evaluation activities. This guidance encourages state and local governments to link funding to performance and evaluation data through performance-based grants and contracts.
Highlights of Areas Where More Progress Is Needed
- Federal agencies should use their full authority to invest in what works by defining and prioritizing evidence of effectiveness in all of their competitive grant programs.
- Congress, the White House, and federal agencies should work together to define and prioritize evidence in all of their non-competitive grant programs.
- Congress, the White House, and federal agencies should work together to ensure that at least 1% of agency program funds are invested in evidence-building efforts.