Federal Eye: OMB Wants More Data on Government’s Performance

The Office of Management and Budget will release new performance guidelines Wednesday to collect deeper evaluations of federal offices and programs.

The new Program Evaluation Initiative is voluntary but will help agencies make “evidence-based policy decisions” about what’s working and what needs improvement, White House Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients said in an interview Tuesday.

“This administration is very committed to delivering value, and that means we should be investing in programs that work. And programs that aren’t working, we either need to fix or we need to terminate them,” Zients said.

If you’re confused by what this all means, let’s try a different sort of explanation. Pretend the government is a news organization that only has only two ways to measure its success: circulation and Web site traffic data. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, however. (What’s bringing all those new online readers?) So the news boss decides to hire an outside firm to get those answers, perhaps through readership surveys. The reader feedback provides editors with detailed answers and explanations. (They’re coming because they love the Eye!) And that data can inform a decision about whether to continue or cancel certain comics, features, even columnists. (Hey!)

That’s basically what the Obama administration is trying to do here: trying to get a fuller report on what’s working and what’s not.

Another key excerpt from the guidelines:

“Although the federal government has long invested in evaluations, many important programs have never been formally evaluated — and the evaluations that have been done have not sufficiently shaped federal budget priorities or agency management practices,” the new guidelines will state. “Many agencies lack an office of evaluation with the stature and staffing to support an ambitious, strategic, and relevant research agenda. As a consequence, some programs have persisted year after year without adequate evidence that they work. In some cases, evaluation dollars have flowed into studies of insufficient rigor or policy significance. And Federal programs have rarely evaluated multiple approaches to the same problem with the goal of identifying which ones are most effective.”

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