Evidence-based policymaking uneven across government


Federal agency use of evidence in decision-making is a mixed bag, said Diana Epstein, who works on evidence-based policymaking at the Office of Management and Budget.

"Agencies are at really different places" on implementing the foundations of building evidence and using it to make decisions, she said at an Oct. 18 event hosted by the Urban Institute. "We really do need to continue building capacity throughout the federal government to better build and use evidence, and we think that learning agendas are a great tool to help agencies start down this path."

Some agencies are far along, and others are just "starting down this road.… They'd like to go forward but don’t know how,” she said. "And then quite frankly, we have a set of agencies that have no idea what we’re talking about and don’t really see why this would be helpful for them."

The findings of a bipartisan Commission on Evidence-based Policymaking led to the introduction of legislation backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act has passed the House, but not the Senate. Nick Hart, director of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said there's a chance the bill could move in the post-election lame duck session.

In the absence of legislation, Hart said, guidance from OMB requiring learning agendas across agencies could be in the offing in late 2018 or early 2019.

"The OMB guidance is contingent on what happens with the bills," he said. "If it looks like the bill’s not going to go, they’re going to go ahead and issue it. If the bill’s going to come out, they’re going to … sync up with it."

Some agencies -- such as the Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Small Business Administration -- are on their way with implementing learning agendas.

Terell Lasane, the lead program evaluator within SBA’s CFO office, said his team is working both inside the agency at all levels to build support and holding "road shows" that engage stakeholders rather than making adoption a matter of compliance.

Melissa Patsalides, acting deputy assistant administrator for USAID’s bureau for policy, planning and learning, said a push from OMB could be helpful in encouraging adoption.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.


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