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OMB Pushes More-Rigorous Program Evaluations

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The federal Office of Management and Budget is pushing harder to get federal agencies to put their money where the research is.

In a memo to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other agency leaders, the OMB has called for all fiscal 2014 budget proposals to include a separate section detailing the departments' "most innovative uses of evidence and evaluation."

The memo calls for federal agencies to create and expand research partnerships to study programs, include cost-effectiveness calculations, and embed the evaluation structure into program grants.

In education, that could provide opportunities for the nation's regional educational laboratories, which in their latest contracts were overhauled to require more partnerships with other research groups.

The U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, which oversees the labs, "wants us to develop research alliances and put people together around topics that are priorities for states," said Barbara Foorman, the first commissioner of the National Center for Education Research and now head of the Regional Educational Laboratory for the Southeast Region. In tight budget times, both the federal and state education departments are pressing for more research on programs before spending money on them, according to Ms. Foorman.

The OMB is also calling for agencies to look for quick, low-cost approaches to the research itself. Traditionally, "gold standard" randomized, controlled trials take five years or more and tens of thousands of dollars to conduct.

"We strongly support this new effort," said Jon Baron, the president of the Washington-based Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, in an email. "As demonstrated in fields such as medicine and welfare policy, such evidence-based approaches can greatly increase government's effectiveness in addressing critical national problems in social policy and other areas and identify important opportunities for budget savings to help address the long-term deficit problem."

The OMB memo also encourages federal agencies to follow the lead of other departments' "pay for success" models, in which private groups "invest" in promising interventions and are repaid by federal grants in return for showing progress.

Vol. 31, Issue 33, Page 4

Published in Print: June 6, 2012, as OMB Pushes More-Rigorous Program Evaluations
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