Federal Standard Highlights How 9 Federal Agencies Use
Evidence and Data to Get Better Results
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, at a virtual event co-hosted with the National Academy of Public Administration, Results for America will release the 2020 Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence, an annual review of how federal agencies are using evidence and data to get better results for young people, their families, and communities.
The event will highlight the federal government’s potential to accelerate the bipartisan momentum for evidence-based policymaking through remarks by Ben Harris, Results for America Chief Economist and Senior Adviser, who has served as an adviser to President-elect Joe Biden; Terry Gerton, National Academy of Public Administration President and CEO; Melody Barnes, former White House Domestic Policy Council Director and Results for America Senior Fellow; and senior federal agency leaders.
The 2020 Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence (Federal Standard of Excellence) highlights how nine federal agencies that oversee more than $220 billion in federal investments annually are building the infrastructure necessary to use evidence and data in their budget, policy, and management decisions. In addition, the Federal Standard of Excellence captures the significant progress these nine federal agencies have made in implementing the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act), which took effect in 2019.
“In 2020, federal agencies, including the nine featured in the Federal Standard of Excellence, have accelerated progress to implement the Evidence Act,” said Michele Jolin, CEO and Co-Founder of Results for America. “Based on the findings of the 2020 Federal Standard of Excellence, we are encouraged by the progress of the bipartisan movement to invest in what works.”
“In 2020, federal agencies took several important steps toward using, building, and leveraging evidence and data to make our federal government more effective and efficient,” said David Medina, COO and Co-Founder of Results for America. “The 2020 Federal Standard of Excellence identifies areas where agencies, Congress, and the Biden-Harris administration can take additional actions to ensure that evidence and data are driving federal decisions.”
2020 Federal Standard of Excellence Key Findings
The 2020 Federal Standard of Excellence serves as the starting point for these future steps by describing the evidence-based policymaking advances at nine of the largest federal social services agencies to date. For example, eight of nine participating agencies have designated Evidence Act officials to coordinate agency-wide evidence-based policymaking and reported progress on conducting an Evidence Capacity Assessment. Nearly half of these agencies (44%) spent 1% or more of their budgets on evaluation-related activities. Moreover, 39 competitive and noncompetitive grant programs (which allocated $45 billion in FY20) at these nine federal agencies are prioritizing evidence when allocating funds.
For each agency a key accomplishment is described below:
- Administration for Children and Families (ACF within HHS): Provided robust technical assistance to grantees to improve outcomes for children and families through programs such as the TANF Data Innovation Project which helps state welfare agencies leverage data to improve programs and services.
- Administration for Community Living (ACL within HHS): For the first time, reported spending 1% of its program budget on research and evaluation activities in FY20.
- Agency for International Development (USAID): Published its first-ever common evidence framework to drive research and funding decisions.
- AmeriCorps: Invested the majority (51%) of its AmeriCorps State and National grant program funds in grantees with moderate and strong evidence of effectiveness.
- Department of Education (ED): Awarded $105 million for state longitudinal data systems in 26 states, which included four new grantees.
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Allocated the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers, which provide housing for veterans experiencing homelessness, based on grantees’ past performance to increase use of such vouchers.
- Department of Labor (DOL): Implemented a robust performance management system led by the Performance Management Center, which engaged the Deputy Secretary and Chief Evaluation Officer in quarterly performance stat meetings and dashboards reviews to ensure the department met its goals and outcomes in the FY18-22 strategic plan.
- Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC): Created “Sector Packages” that serve as one-stop repositories of sector-level common indicators, research questions, evaluation findings, and applied learnings.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA within HHS): Maintained the Mental Health Grant Block (MHBG) grant’s 10% set aside evidence-based interventions to address the needs of individuals with early serious mental illness.
Results for America commends the federal civil service career staff at these agencies for their dedication and commitment to using evidence and data to drive their decisions over the last year.
Accelerating Progress on Federal Evidence-Based Policy
The 2020 Federal Standard of Excellence also identified the following areas where federal agencies, the Biden-Harris Administration, and Congress could make additional progress in 2021 and beyond:
- Invest in Evidence Act Implementation: OMB and Congress should provide sufficient resources for all agencies to implement the Evidence Act. ACF, ED, HUD and DOL should invest 1% of their budgets in research and evaluation activities.
- Evidence in Grant Programs: OMB and agencies should prioritize the use of evidence of effectiveness in competitive grants; Congress should provide agencies with additional authority to use evidence of effectiveness in non-competitive grant programs.
- Technical Assistance for Research, Evaluation, and Data Activities: All federal agencies and departments should continue to support research and evaluation technical assistance for grantees, including state and local governments, and clarify that federal funds can be used to build the evidence and data capacity of grantees.
- Establish Common Evidence Standards: ACL, CNCS, HUD, and MCC should implement common evidence standards to drive research and funding decisions.
- Create Evidence Clearinghouses: ACF, ACL, USAID, HUD should create agency-wide clearinghouses of evidence-based interventions and practices, rather than the existing collections of disparate issued-based clearinghouses.
- OPEN Government Data Act Implementation: OMB should issue guidance to agencies on implementing OPEN Government Data Act. Based on that guidance, agencies should update open data inventories, develop strategic data plans, and revise data governance policies.
- Other Actions to Achieve Better Results: Congress, OMB, and federal agencies should implement the other recommendations from Results for America’s presidential transition guides for the White House Domestic Policy Council and Office of Management and Budget as well as the 2020 Presidential Playbook in order to invest taxpayer dollars in what works and increase economic mobility.
Results for America would like to thank the committed federal civil servants at the nine federal agencies and members of its Federal Standard of Excellence Advisory Committee who helped develop the 2020 Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence.
“The nine agencies in the 2020 Federal Standard of Excellence are demonstrating how other federal agencies can effectively put in place the evidence-building capacities required by the Evidence Act and can use that capacity to get better results,” said Jed Herrmann, Vice President of State and Federal Policy Implementation at Results for America.
Background on Results for America:
Results for America’s mission is to make investing in what works the “new normal,” so that when policymakers make decisions, they start by seeking the best evidence and data available, then use what they find to get better results. Results for America also publishes annual standards of excellence for state and local government. The Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence sets a national benchmark for how state governments can consistently and effectively use evidence and data in budget, policy, and management decisions to achieve better outcomes for their residents. Results for America’s What Works Cities Certification evaluates how well cities are managed by measuring the extent to which city leaders incorporate data and evidence in their decision-making.
Background on the Evidence Act:
The Federal Standard of Excellence was updated in 2019 to include the requirements of the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act), which increases the federal government’s evidence generation activities. More information on the Evidence Act is available via Results for America’s Evidence Act Resource Hub.