Charles Dharapak/AP

Agencies asked to beef up ‘evidence-based’ budgeting

OMB memo encourages waivers from Congress for cross-agency partnerships.

Acting budget director Jeffrey Zients has tasked all agency heads with incorporating greater evidence and more rigorous performance evaluation in their fiscal 2014 budget requests, saying that in tight budget times proposals are more likely to win presidential approval if they link evidence to program outcomes.

“Where evidence is strong, we should act on it,” Zients wrote. “Where evidence is suggestive, we should consider it. Where evidence is weak, we should build the knowledge to support better decisions in the future.”

Examples of evidence include data on wages, employment, emergency room visits and school attendance, which, when coupled with information technology, can help agencies conduct rigorous evaluations at low cost, the memo says. Examples of agencies already using “tiered-evidence programs” include the Education Department’s Investing in Innovation program and the Health and Human Services' Department’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention and Home Visiting programs.

Agencies also should consider seeking congressional authority “to allow new waivers linked to evaluation or to establish cross-agency ‘performance partnerships’ that enable blending of multiple funding streams to test better ways to align services and improve outcomes,” Zients said in the memo published Friday. He added some agencies already are seeking authority in fiscal 2013 for initiatives supporting distressed communities and disconnected youth.

The memo directs agencies to submit plans for appointing a chief evaluation officer, tapping either an existing manager or creating a new slot that “could replace several less empowered ones,” remaining mindful of “tight resource constraints.”

A series of discussions on evidence-based practices is planned by the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Performance Improvement Council, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.