October 8, 2014Article

Government Executive: Could Obama’s Push for Evidence-Based Program Evaluations Cross Party Lines?

by Charles S. Clark

Federal/ 2014/

The Obama administration is reporting progress on its ongoing effort to prod agencies to increase their use of data analytics in making “evidence-based” evaluations of programs—even to the point of attracting interest from Republicans in the highly polarized Congress.

Kathy Stack, adviser for evidence-based innovation at the Office of Management and Budget, on Wednesday summarized the multi-agency effort to embed “rigorous evidence in combination with collaborative decision making that is critical to getting change” for more effective federal grant-making. She spoke at a Washington forum for agency representatives co-sponsored by Johns Hopkins University, which is offering new graduate programs in data analytics, and REI Systems, which contracts with the government to operate Data.gov, Performance.gov and USAspending.gov.

Fleshing out details on agency responses to the push for inexpensive data from a wider variety of sources laid out in a July 2013 OMB memorandum, Stack said there is interest on Capitol Hill in funding agency data analytics offices, particularly among the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations panels.

In what may come as a surprise to some, she said OMB had spotted possible common ground on evidence-based program reviews in the white paper on reducing poverty and expanding opportunity released in July by conservative House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. It contained a sentence advocating “results-driven research,” and called for “a commission to examine the best ways to encourage rigorous analysis of our safety-net programs. Specifically, the commission would consider the implementation of a new Clearinghouse for Program and Survey Data to enhance research capabilities and help us policymakers design more effective programs.”