Can agencies implement evidence-based policymaking without more money?

Evidence-based policymaking has been touted as a management priority, but the White House's 2020 budget requests no funds for the mandate, making early steps difficult for agencies.

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Evidence-based policymaking has been touted as a management priority, but the White House's 2020 budget includes no money for the mandate, making early steps difficult for agencies.

At a March 15 event hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, Jeff Schlagenhauf, associate director for economic policy at the Office of Management and Budget, pointed to some of the major challenges government faces when it comes to incorporating evidence into decision-making.

The "core" policy items he said, include agencies' naming chief data officers, their development of a learning agenda, plus the creation of a governmentwide advisory committee on data.

The degree to which executive branch senior leadership will get involved with implementing evidence-based policymaking "is an open question right now," he said, adding that OMB and the Office of Science and Technology Policy are positioned to drive the push across government.

Diana Epstein, OMB's evidence team lead, said her office sees "plenty of opportunities for this work to integrate into the budget process and all kinds of existing processes that are already ongoing to help infuse evidence in the way we do business in general."

"We're not just going to drop guidance on folks and then disappear," she said. "That's not our intent at all … particularly for those agencies that are just starting down this path."

So far, she said, OMB has been hosting a monthly forum for agencies to share their processes and has launched an intranet page available to agencies that it plans to build out further.

Because of the uneven use of evidence across government, Epstein said, maintaining flexibility and not forcing agencies to replicate a specific implementation model will be key to their success.

Nick Hart, director of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said implementation, especially for agencies, is just getting started and will depend on getting chief data officers in place and senior leaders on board.

To make meaningful progress, Hart said, "some agencies are going to need more money."

"We don’t know how much we spend on evaluation. We don’t know how many people are working on evaluation across the government," he said. "Until they know where all those people are and how they relate to each other, it's hard to walk up to Congress and say, 'We need this precise amount.'"

Susan Jenkins, director of the Administration for Community Living's Office of Performance and Evaluation within the Department of Health and Human Services, said that other obstacles to expanded data use are related to siloes within agencies as well as limitations presented by IT systems.

The biggest challenge, Epstein said, is that "capacity right now is so widely varied when you look across the government."

"There are a lot of agencies that don't really have evaluation expertise at all, or they may have one or two people sort of buried deeply in a bureau or operating division somewhere," she said. "That is certainly going to be a key challenge if we're going to make evaluation a key part of how agencies do business across the government and really elevate it."

But the workforce questions come to back to the need for resources, Jenkins pointed out. "If we need to reorganize the workforce to some degree, there may be some resources constraints we may be facing," she said.

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