Federal Standard Highlights How 9 Federal Agencies Are Using Evidence and Data to Get Better Results
Washington, DC – At a bipartisan event with senior federal agency leaders and Congressional staff today on Capitol Hill, Results for America released the 2019 Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence (Federal Standard of Excellence), an annual snapshot of how federal agencies are building and using evidence and data to get better results for young people, their families, and communities. The event was co-hosted with the Data Coalition as the kickoff to its GovDATAx summit taking place on October 30 in Washington, DC.
The 2019 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.
The 2019 Federal Standard of Excellence features the significant progress these nine federal agencies have made to operate effectively and efficiently, including their early efforts to implement the new requirements in the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act), which took effect earlier this year.
“The Evidence Act represents a big step forward for the federal government’s commitment to evidence-based policymaking,” said Michele Jolin, CEO and Co-Founder of Results for America. “Based on the findings of the 2019 Federal Standard of Excellence, we are encouraged by the progress of the bipartisan movement to invest in what works.”
“In the 2019 Federal Standard of Excellence, Results for America saw federal agencies make progress on their evidence building and evidence use,” said David Medina, COO and Co-Founder of Results for America. “The work of these leading agencies illustrates the power of evidence-based policy and shows us what future steps agencies and Congress can take to increase how the federal government builds and uses evidence in its budget, policy, and management decisions.”
“The nine agencies in the 2019 Federal Standard of Excellence are setting the example for how other federal agencies can effectively put in place the evidence-building capacities required by 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.
In 2019, Results for America, based on the advice of its Federal Standard of Excellence Advisory Committee and the participating federal agencies themselves, updated the scoring criteria for the Federal Standard of Excellence to provide a more complete picture of the evidence-based and results-driven progress being made within the federal government, including efforts to meet the new evidence and data requirements in the Evidence Act. Due to these changes, which raised the bar for federal agencies as they build on the promise of the Evidence Act, the overall and criteria-specific 2019 scores for each agency should not be compared to their scores from previous years.
Overall, 35 competitive and noncompetitive grant programs (which allocated $41 billion in FY19) at these nine federal agencies are prioritizing evidence when allocating funds.
The 2019 Federal Standard of Excellence also features the following significant evidence- and data-related efforts within the nine featured federal agencies:
- Administration for Children and Families (ACF within HHS): Increased investments in evaluation activities from $165 million in FY18 to $200 million in FY19.
- Administration for Community Living (ACL within HHS): Continued to significantly improve its overall evidence-building capacity, including training its program staff on ways to include evidence and data requirements in the agency’s funding notices.
- Agency for International Development (USAID): Continued to invest in the Development Innovation Ventures program which uses a tiered funding framework to scale evidence-based innovations and has allocated 98% of all of its awards as pay-for-performance grants.
- Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS): Invested more than 1% of its program funds in evaluation related activities for the first time and further increased the prioritization of evidence in its AmeriCorps State and National grant program.
- Department of Education (ED): Used a consistent evidence framework for its research and funding decisions, including the prioritization of evidence in its largest competitive grant programs.
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Awarded funds from its Community Compass program to provide technical assistance to help grantees improve their data analysis, reporting, and performance measurement among other areas.
- Department of Labor (DOL): Began implementation of the evidence requirements in the Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment (RESEA) program, including awarding $130 million to states to operate RESEA programs that meet the law’s evidence requirements.
- Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC): Evaluated every investment it made in FY19 and created a new product– Evaluation Briefs– to more effectively communicate the generated results and evidence from each evaluation.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA within HHS): Provided extensive technical assistance materials to grantees to help them improve their use of evidence-based practices.
The nine federal agencies featured in Results for America’s 2019 Federal Standard of Excellence are among the top performing agencies on data, evidence and evaluation across the federal government. Accordingly, agency scores this year are grouped by their progress on the Evidence Act and use of evidence in grant programs:
- Emerging Progress: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Promising Progress: Administration for Community Living
- Significant Progress: Administration for Children and Families; Corporation for National and Community Service; U.S. Department of Labor; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Major Progress: U.S. Agency for International Development; U.S. Department of Education; Millennium Challenge Corporation
Results for America congratulates these federal agencies for their continued commitment to investing taxpayer dollars in what works.
The 2019 Federal Standard of Excellence also identified the following areas where more progress is needed in the coming years:
- DOL: DOL should restore its investments in evaluation, which were reduced from $40 million in FY17 to $21 million in FY18 and to $9 million in FY19.
- ED: While ED increased its investments in evaluation activities to $53 million in FY19 from $39 million in FY18, this remains below the $200 million it invested in FY17 and $144 million in FY16.
- HUD: HUD should reinstate the use of evidence when allocating grant funds through its Choice Neighborhoods program, which set aside up to 4 points out of 100 for evidence-based public safety and early learning programs in FY18, but did not do so in FY19.
- CNCS: CNCS should report agency performance information as it did in its Congressional Budget Proposals prior to FY18.
- Congress: Congress should work with all federal agencies to prioritize evidence of effectiveness in their non-competitive grant programs.
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 2019 Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence.
“The Commission on Evidence-based Policymaking and the newly enacted Evidence Act were designed to increase the availability and use of data in order to build evidence about government programs,” said Nick Hart, CEO of the Data Coalition and former Policy and Research Director for the Commission. “Results for America’s Federal Standard of Excellence provides an important way to measure the government’s progress in implementing new government-wide expectations and requirements.”
“Doing what works is a powerful antidote to the rancor of partisan politics,” said John Bridgeland, co-chair of the Results for America Federal Standard of Excellence Advisory Committee and former White House Domestic Policy Council Director (President G.W. Bush). “Evidence-based policy brings people together to make real gains that can improve the lives of all Americans.”
“The Results for America Federal Standard of Excellence demonstrates that the federal government continues to make important progress advancing the use of evidence, data, and evaluation to get better results,” said Melody Barnes, co-chair of the Results for America Federal Standard of Excellence Advisory Committee and Former Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council (Obama Administration).
Results for America remains hopeful that the bipartisan momentum in support of shifting taxpayer dollars toward what works will continue to grow. In addition to the positive developments at the federal level, there is also progress at the local and state levels:
- Local Government: Results for America leads Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities Certification, which assesses how well cities are managed by detailing the extent to which city leaders incorporate data and evidence in their decision-making. At the city level, over 100 mayors — Democrats and Republicans — have participated in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative with 14 cities receiving a 2019 What Works Certification for their data-based decision-making.
- State Government: The 2019 Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence sets a national standard—a “north star”—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. In the 2019 Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence, Results for America identified 125 examples of data-driven and evidence-based practices, policies, programs, and systems in effect as of June 2019 in 33 states across the country.
Background on the Evidence Act:
The Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act) increases the federal government’s evidence generation activities, an important step forward for federal evidence-based policy. The Evidence Act contains many of the items that Results for America has included in its Federal Standard of Excellence since 2012, including requiring agencies to designate evaluation officers and data leaders, create evaluation plans, and develop evidence-building plans. The Evidence Act also places additional requirements on federal agencies, which will be phased in between 2019 and 2022. More information on the Evidence Act is available via Results for America’s Evidence Act Resource Center.