Program Management

GAO: Agencies need more program evaluations

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Most federal managers need to better and more-frequently evaluate their programs, says a report by the Government Accountability Office.

GAO surveyed more than 4,300 federal managers and supervisors in the Departments of Agriculture, Labor and Health and Human Services on the extent of their use of evaluations. The report defines evaluations as "systematic studies that use research methods to address specific questions about program performance."

The Government Performance and Results Act's Modernization Act of 2010 holds agencies accountable for conducting evaluations and using that information to make improvements in performance. Under the GPRAMA, GAO is tasked with ensuring that agencies are using these performance evaluations.

GAO's survey found that most federal managers had not conducted recent evaluations of their agencies' programs. Only 37 percent of managers reported evaluations within the last five years, of which 80 percent also said the evaluations had helped improve program management and performance.

Forty percent reported that they did not know if recent evaluations had been completed.

Additionally, the report found that the greatest obstacle to an agency's implementation of evaluations was lack of resources, particularly insufficient budgets.

According to GAO, "agencies' lack of evaluations may be the greatest barrier to their informing program managers and policy makers." The report also suggests that "seeking out in advance the interests and concerns of key program stakeholders, including the Congress, can help ensure that agency evaluations provide the information necessary for effective management and congressional oversight."

GAO interviewed evaluators from the Office of Management and Budget to find out what other obstacles hindered evaluations, as well as strategies on how agencies can facilitate evaluation use. OMB cited three basic strategies, including: demonstrating leadership support of evaluation for accountability and program improvement; building a strong body of evidence; and engaging stakeholders throughout the evaluation process.

About the Author

Natalie Lauri is an editorial fellow at FCW. Connect with her on Twitter: @Nat_Lauri.

Reader comments

Tue, Jul 2, 2013

GAO is correct. More program evaluation needs to be done. But, it doesn't stop there. The Federal culture needs to change as well. The appointee system has no incentive for program evaluation, as the short tenure of political appointees incentivizes short term initiatives that are characterized by splashy ribbon cutting announcements and little or no follow through because of kluged together funds and personnel because of the long process of actually getting funding from Congress. The other part of culture that is maddening is that when evaluations and required reports to Congress are done there is little evidence that Congress actually reads them or responds to them in positive ways (or even in constructive ways of ending ineffective programs). GAO could also study how evidence for legislation is developed, as there is often no visible evidence that the prescriptions in legislation are grounded in evidence that those prescriptions have a reasonable probability of addressing the problem or opportunity that the legislation is purportedly to address. Quite often program fall short because of wrong headed legislated "solutions" that the Executive Branch is forced to implement (e.g. Abstinence only sex education, no child left behind), even when funding is flush.

Mon, Jul 1, 2013 Jim

This audit shouldbe completed on more programs as the government accepts to much hardware that does not meet the contract requirements

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