New OMB Program Evaluation Guidance

OMB LogoThe Office of Management and Budget released new guidelines to agencies to increase  their emphasis on conducting program evaluations.  According to the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe in his article, “OMB Wants More Data on Government’s Performance,” OMB’s Jeff Zients told him: “We’re working to create a system that’s actually used by senior decision-makers.”

According to OMB, the guidance launching this new program evaluation initiative will be launched government-wide as part of the fiscal year 2011 budget process:

  • OMB will work with agencies to post on-line ongoing or planned federal evaluations focused on program impacts.  One possible model is the HHS clinical trial registry and results data bank, ClinicalTrials.gov.
  • OMB will create an interagency working group to promote stronger evaluation, by working with the existing Performance Improvement Council.
  • OMB will allocate (some) funding to agencies that volunteer to undertake new evaluations aimed at determining the causal effects of programs.  Agencies wishing to participate have until November 4th to submit proposals to OMB using the template included in the guidance memo.

The priority for new evaluations will focus on “programs whose expenditures are aimed at improving life outcomes . . .for individuals” in areas such as health, social, educational, and economic programs.  “[M]ost activities related to procurement, construction, taxation, and national defense are beyond the initial scope of this initiative” as are drug and clinical medical evaluations, which are being funded via other means.

With this memo, OMB is taking a different approach to program evaluation than the previous Administration which systematically applied a Program Assessment Rating Tool to over 1,000 federal programs.  The new effort seems less systematic but more pragmatic. Rather than attempting to achieve comprehensiveness, it seems to be aiming for a targeted impact.

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