Valuing Evaluation

Especially in these difficult economic times, it’s critical that taxpayer dollars are used wisely. We can’t just keep continuing with business as usual in Washington where programs get funded because they always have – even if they may be ineffective, duplicative, or outdated.  That is why the President has made changing how the federal government does business and how taxpayer dollars are spent a top priority. And, as I have written about before, it’s why we are putting an emphasis on objective, rigorous evaluations to help drive funding decisions across the government. To help meet that goal, OMB today put forward a new evaluation initiative that will serve as an important tool for decision-makers and the public to track what works – and what doesn’t.
Most agencies regularly review ongoing programs, but too often, because of measurement or data constraints, design problems, or lack of resources within the agency, these reviews are not robust enough to provide meaningful information about a program’s outcomes and measurable progress towards the agency’s objective. Many agencies simply don’t have the capacity to carry out a rigorous, strategic research agenda.  The result is that policy priorities are established without evidence to back them up.  Programs are continued year after year almost by rote, without a hard, objective look as to their effectiveness.
We want to break that cycle.  We want to provide an honest, up-front analysis of government programs and services.  This independent evaluation needs to be built into the DNA of the government’s priority-setting and funding determinations.
To achieve this goal, OMB is encouraging agencies to volunteer for a new program evaluation initiative designed to strengthen rigorous, objective assessments of existing federal activities to improve results and better inform funding decisions.  Ongoing program evaluation research will be published online, and an interagency task force will identify and help to shape evaluations of programs that cross over several agencies.

Why voluntary? This is a first step. The agencies participating in this initial effort will serve as demonstration projects through which we can test approaches to improve program effectiveness and efficiency, share best practices, and further improve performance.  After assessing this initiative in FY2011, the Administration will be better positioned to implement government-wide evaluation metrics.
The bottom line is that rigorous, independent evaluation drives results – giving us a government that is both more efficient and effective.
I also should note that to help get the best ideas about how to create a more effective and responsive government, we have launched the President’s SAVE Award, a contest for front-line workers to give us their best cost-saving ideas. We have one more week in the contest and already have thousands of great entries. If you’re a federal worker reading this blog, go to, and give us your best idea.

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