OMB defines next steps for 'refreshed' management agenda

Monday - 7/29/2013, 2:17pm EDT

The Office of Management and Budget wants agencies to prove why they want, or need, to spend money in fiscal 2015.

And OMB is providing some help in creating those justifications.

A new memo from OMB Director Sylvia Burwell; Cecilia Munoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council; John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; told agency heads to use evidence and innovation to improve government performance when developing their fiscal 2015 budget requests.

"Agencies are encouraged to allocate resources to programs and practices backed by strong evidence of effectiveness while trimming activities that evidence shows are not effective," the memo stated. "In addition, major new policy proposals, and agency performance plans, should be accompanied by a thorough discussion of existing evidence, both positive and negative, on the effectiveness of those proposals in achieving the policy objective or agency priority goal. Such evidence includes evaluation results, performance measures and other relevant data analytics and research studies, with a preference for high quality experimental and quasi-experimental studies."

The memo comes a few weeks after President Barack Obama refreshed his administration's management agenda.

"The President recently asked his cabinet to carry out an aggressive management agenda for his second term that delivers a smarter, more innovative, and more accountable government for citizens," the memos stated. "An important component of that effort is strengthening agencies' abilities to continually improve program performance by applying existing evidence about what works, generating new knowledge, and using experimentation and innovation to test new approaches to program delivery."

OMB stated agencies should focus on a small number of high-quality proposals in their budget requests to develop evidence to improve existing programs. The proposals need to meet specific requirements:

  • They should address important policy questions and generating evidence that could be actionable. In particular, evaluations should measure the outcomes that are relevant for judging whether a program or intervention is achieving its goals.

  • They should yield credible evidence of program or policy impacts, for example by utilizing randomized controlled trials or carefully designed quasi-experimental techniques.

  • They should help agencies direct a larger share of resources toward evidence-based practices, for example by modifying grant criteria or better disseminating information.
OMB also wants to help agencies improve how they use evidence-based data through a series of workshops addressing everything from focusing on the most important policies and programmatic questions to using administrative data sets to conducting rigorous program evaluations and data analytics.

"The workshops will be designed to build and share knowledge across the federal government as well as to identify expertise and resources to help agencies implement strong proposals," the memo stated.

Agencies must designate two people to lead this process and participate in workshops by Aug. 15.

Typically, agencies submit their budgets to OMB in early-to-mid-September.

The memo follows OMB's $6 million request to Congress to fund the Evidence Based Innovation fund. The White House wants to expand the use of the Data Driven Innovation Fund in which to stand up a small team of experts to apply an information-analyses approach to programs.

The Obama administration has focused on evidence-based decision-making throughout its time in office.

Shelley Metzenbaum, the former associate director for personnel and performance at OMB, said in May the White House pushed agencies to set stretch goals that created innovative approaches. She said there is a lot of promising work going on through the use of "stat sessions."

Additionally, OMB is using the cross-agency priority goals to expand the use of the data-driven approached used locally in each agency.

To that end, Burwell's memo highlights five cross-cutting strategies including using more data to improve results, such as linking program data with administrative information and using low-cost, fast pilots to test concepts.

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