The Obama Administration's Self-Proclaimed Legacy in Good Governance

"We will leave behind a truly impressive legacy on the creation and use of evidence for the next administration to build upon," OMB Director Shaun Donovan said. "We will leave behind a truly impressive legacy on the creation and use of evidence for the next administration to build upon," OMB Director Shaun Donovan said. Susan Walsh/AP

President Obama’s management and budget director boasted this week about the administration’s progress in using data and evidence in decision making, saying its approach was unprecedented and will have a long-lasting impact on federal agencies.

The administration has implemented a “top-to-bottom” commitment to evidence-based policy, Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan said in a speech on Monday at Results for America – a bipartisan group advocating better performance in government. The data-centric approach has actually come to define what a modern government looks like, Donovan said.

“Evidence-driven policy is an important part of the president’s larger vision of a modern, 21st century government,” he explained, “one that taps emerging technology and innovation to help the federal government better deliver for the American people.”

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Donovan addressed the advocacy group as the keynote speaker at an event to roll out a scorecard ranking agencies’ commitments to using evidence and improving performance. While the group found the administration still has more work to do, Donovan said it has incorporated the strategy in a unique way.

“This administration has embraced this approach in a way that no previous administration did,” Donovan said.

Generally, Donovan said the administration’s strategy has been to act on evidence if it already exists, and build evidence when it does not. When preliminary results demonstrate success, the administration then invests fully in that project or program.  He pointed specifically to tiered evidence grants, which give resources to test “new models with high potential” and scale up funding when there is “proven evidence an approach delivers impact.”

The OMB and former Housing and Urban Development Department leader indicated Congress could have a significant role to play in ensuring future administrations continue what he and others have started. In establishing programs like Pay for Success, in which the government repays private philanthropists and investors for services only if desired outcomes are met, a commitment to good government prevailed over partisan politics, Donovan said, adding that spirit should continue.

Donovan noted there is more data than ever available, and the government should work to share it with those outside government.

“Just because the federal government owns certain data doesn’t mean that we have all the answers for how to use it effectively to address important needs,” he said.

Ultimately, Donovan suggested, the administration’s commitment to evidence-based policy will be something for which Obama’s presidency with be remembered.

“We will leave behind a truly impressive legacy on the creation and use of evidence for the next administration to build upon,” Donovan said.

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