Dr. Kathryn Newcomer is the current Director of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at the George Washington University and a foremost authority on program evaluation (see full bio below).
Why is the knowledge of program evaluation so important to a government employee?
Program evaluation entails the application of social science analytical methods to address questions
about policy and programs. Questions to raise about public policies and programs include everything
from how well they are implemented to what difference did they make. Data from program evaluation
efforts range from counts of how many people or organizations were affected by a policy or program,
to measurement of how much better off the people or organizations are after they participated in a
Anyone who works in a government agency should understand how the programs and policies for
which their agency is responsible operate. Program evaluation tools, such as program logic models,
can be used to help government employees communicate internally regarding how to improve their
programs ,and with external constituencies to explain what their agency does and why. Communicating
effectively about the value of programs and policies is a critical skill absolutely necessary for public
Being able to marshal data and/or studies to demonstrate what government agencies are doing, why
they are doing it, and what benefits they are providing to enrich society as a whole, and especially those
least advantaged members of society, is an essential skill for public servants.
How has program evaluation evolved in government in the past few years, and what is the
future for it?
At the federal level of government, program evaluation became more visible, and somewhat
controversial, during the George W. Bush Administration due to the use of the Program Assessment
Rating Tool (or PART) by the Office of Management and Budget. The PART process involved OMB
budget examiners assigning scores (ranging from 1 to 100) and labels (such as ineffective and effective)
to programs. The criteria used in the PART scoring included program design, management, and
effectiveness in producing results. The PART process itself was not a program evaluation, but an
assessment made based on the data and study results available about the program. Since the Bush
Administration systematically assigned PART scores to virtually all federal programs (the way OMB
decided what constituted a program varied!), expectations that managers should be able to find and
aggregate data to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs were raised.
While the Obama Administration has not continued the PART process, the signals from the OMB have
been consistent in terms of urging agency leaders and program managers to use performance data
and program evaluations to learn about the effectiveness of their programs. For example, all federal
employees should visit www. performance.gov – the new OMB website that provides information about
Obama’s high priority goals, and showcases data on programs across the federal government.
In addition, the Congress updated and put more teeth into the Government Performance and Results
Act (1993) with passage of the GPRA Modernization Act, signed into law in January 2011. The new,
improved law pushes agencies to report on program performance, and to report more frequently with
an emphasis on reporting on goal attainment.
And, with budget cutting at both the federal and state levels of government so prevalent, the need to
provide evidence of program effectiveness is even more dire – just for program survival!
What advice can you give to those entering the public sector workforce in regards to program
I urge potential public servants to develop their knowledge and skills on program evaluation through
pertinent coursework in college and training, such as through The Evaluators Institute (TEI), and through
reading about public sector performance measurement and evaluation. There are great resources that
can be downloaded free of cost on these topics from the websites of the Government Accountability
Office (GAO), the Urban Institute, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the IBM
Center for the Business of Government.
Dr. Kathryn Newcomer
Kathryn Newcomer is the director of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at the George Washington University. She teaches public and nonprofit, program evaluation, research design, and applied statistics. She routinely conducts program evaluations and training for federal government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
Dr. Newcomer has published five books, Improving Government Performance (1989), The Handbook of Practical Program Evaluation (1994, 2nd edition 2004, 3rd edition 2010), Meeting the Challenges of Performance-Oriented Government (2002) and Getting Results: A Guide for Federal Leaders and Managers (2005), and Transforming Public and Nonprofit Organizations: Stewardship for Leading Change (2008), a volume of New Directions for Public Program Evaluation, Using Performance Measurement to Improve Public and Nonprofit Programs (1997), and numerous articles in journals including the American Journal of Evaluation and Public Administration Review. She received the Elmer B. Staats Award for her work on Accountability in Government, presented by the National Capital Area Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration in 2008. She is an elected Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, and currently serves on the Comptroller General’s Educators’ Advisory Panel. She is an elected member of the Board of the American Evaluation Association (2011-14). She served as President of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) for 2006-2007. She has received two Fulbright awards, one for Taiwan (1993) and one for Egypt (2001-04). She has lectured on performance measurement and public program evaluation in Ukraine, Brazil, Egypt, Taiwan, and the UK.
Some of her recent publications include:
“Putting Performance First: A New Performance Improvement and Analysis Framework.” In Jonathan D. Breul, Kathryn Newcomer, Joseph P. Goldman, Paul L. Posner, and Steven Schooner. Framing a Public Management Research Agenda. Washington, D.C.: IBM Center for the Business of Government, 2010.
Lead Author: “Public Service Education: Adding Value in the Public Interest,” Journal of Public Affairs Education, Volume 16, No. 2, Spring, 2010, pp. 207-231. Co-author: Heather Allen.
Lead author: “Improving Public Service Education Program Through Assessing the Performance of MPA Alumni,” International Journal of Public Administration, 2010, Volume 33, No. 6, pp. 311-324. Co-authors: Heather Allen and Laila El Baradei.
Author: “Public-Private Partnership and the Public Accountability Question,” Public Administration Review, Volume 70, No. 3, May/June 2010, pp. 475-485. Co-authors: Jed Kee, John Forrer and Eric Boyer.
Author: “Why do Change Efforts Fail?” The Public Manager, Volume 37, Number 3, Fall 2008. pages 5-12. (Lead article) Co-Author: Jed Kee.