A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report is pointing to both good news for Federal agencies – and more work to do – on harnessing the requirements of the 2018 Foundations of Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act).

The good news – GAO’s 2020 survey of 4,000 Federal managers found that nearly all of them had at least one type of evidence, such as data and study results, available for their programs.  The more challenging side of that finding – fewer Federal managers had sufficient capacity to develop and use the evidence, or take actions to enhance it.

“Results from GAO’s 2020 survey of federal managers showed that nearly all managers (an estimated 95 percent) reported having at least one type of evidence for their programs,” GAO’s report said. “When they had evidence, generally about half to two-thirds reported using it in different decision-making activities, such as when allocating resources.”

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Further, GAO said that only one-third to one-half of managers governmentwide reported their evidence-building capacity as “great” or “very great.” Also, “when GAO disaggregated these results, it found that reported aspects of capacity varied widely across Federal agencies and types of evidence.”

The Evidence Act emphasizes that Federal decision makers need evidence on Federal programs to understand if they are achieving intended results. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) states that evidence includes performance information, program evaluations, and other types of data, research, and analysis.

OMB, along with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and various government councils, such as the Chief Data Officers Council, have taken actions to boost Federal evidence-building capacity.

GAO recommended that OMB work with OPM and relevant councils to leverage GAO’s survey results as an additional source of information to enhance Federal evidence-building.

“OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation,” wrote GAO. “Two of the surveyed agencies – the Agency for International Development and Small Business Administration – also provided comments related to GAO’s survey and evidence-building capacity. The remaining agencies did not comment on the report.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.