Acting OMB Director Russell Vought issued a memo.

Acting OMB Director Russell Vought issued a memo. Susan Walsh/AP

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OMB Moving Ahead to Steer Agencies on Evidence-Based Policymaking

Acting budget chief’s memo sets up three-year timeline, interagency council.

The Trump White House is pressing ahead with implementing the bipartisan legislation enacted last year to discipline agencies to rely more heavily on evidence and data when making policy and managing programs.

In a July 10 memo to all agency heads, acting Budget Director Russell Vought laid out a timeline from September 2019 to February 2022 for four phases:  (1) Learning Agendas, Personnel and Planning; (2) Open Data Access and Management; (3) Data Access for Statistical Purposes; and, (4)  Program Evaluation.

The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act “creates a new paradigm by calling on agencies to significantly rethink how they currently plan and organize evidence-building, data management, and data access functions to ensure an integrated and direct connection to data and evidence needs,” OMB wrote. “This paradigm requires engagement and cooperation from multiple actors within agencies (e.g., senior leadership, policy officials, program administrators, performance managers, strategic planners, budget staff, evaluators, analysts, front-line staff and data professionals) and key external stakeholders.” 

The new approach also accelerates and expands many activities underway, the memo said, “including the Federal Data Strategy….; the governmentwide reorganization proposals to strengthen federal evaluation and reorganize the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Bureau of Economic Analysis to improve economic statistical data; new monitoring and evaluation guidelines for agencies that administer foreign assistance; new centralized mission support shared services and standards; and ongoing open data policy related to open data laws,”  such as the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act.

To carry out the act, each “agency must establish an agency Data Governance Body, to be chaired by the Chief Data Officer, with participation from relevant senior-level staff in agency business units, data functions and financial management,” the memo said.

“The newly-designated positions (Chief Data Officer, Evaluation Officer, and Statistical Official) all play a key role in” leading activities such as “Capacity Assessments,” which, as part of agencies' strategic plans, will help agencies assess their ability and infrastructure to carry out evidence-building activities such as fact finding, performance measurement, policy analysis and program evaluation, while also identifying the data needed.

The OMB Evidence Team will establish and coordinate an interagency council composed of Evaluation Officers, who will exchange information, consult with and advise OMB.

The memo was welcomed by Nick Hart, formerly of the Bipartisan Policy Center, which had inherited the congressionally mandated commission’s task of fleshing out the approach to evidence-based policymaking. “OMB’s new guidance on implementing the Evidence Act is a productive step forward for ensuring federal agencies have the leaders in place to promote evidence-based policymaking,” said Hart, now CEO of the DATA Coalition.

“The designation of new chief data officers, evaluation officers, and statistical experts across government is a critical first step for making government data more accessible and useful in our society,” he said. “While ideally this guidance would have been issued months ago, the Data Coalition applauds OMB for prioritizing these leadership roles, offering detailed implementation guidance, a clear organizational plan and a governmentwide scope.”