Policymakers are fixated on short-term budget austerity measures such as furloughs, pay freezes, and conference and travel spending. However, there is a small, but growing effort to take a longer, more strategic look at how to manage austerity by finding what works and targeting dollars there instead of to programs that cannot demonstrate effectiveness.
This trend is the heart of what is being called “evidence-based government” and there are initiatives both inside and outside the federal government to use evidence and program evaluation to reframe budget debates in ways that reflect the value being created, not just the dollars being spent.
For example, a recent Washington Post article highlighted the Even Start program in the Department of Education, which was created in 1988 to help youths from disadvantaged families do better in school and by 2004 it was spending $248 million. But program evaluation studies from more than a decade ago found no evidence that it worked, so President Bush, and then President Obama, recommended abolishing it. It currently is unfunded.