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August 26, 2021

Welcome to Evaluation.gov

By Diana Epstein, Evidence Team Lead, OMB

Yellow tiles on blue background that spell “welcome” Welcome to Evaluation.gov, the home for Federal program evaluation and the Evaluation Officer Council. We are excited to launch this site as a resource to support and build the Federal evaluation community, as well as a central location for the agency plans and policies that guide evaluation efforts across the Federal Government. Evaluation has always been an important part of the evidence enterprise, but it’s even more critical now because of the increased interest and support for evidence-based policymaking. When the bipartisan Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (“Evidence Act”) became law in January 2019, it had the goal of improving the way that the Federal Government builds evidence and uses it for decision making. Among other things, the law requires a more strategic approach to building evidence as opposed to how it has traditionally happened, which is often ad hoc and in response to a particular mandate or driven by a specific group of motivated staff.

This strategic approach to building evidence is driven by the Learning Agenda and Annual Evaluation Plan. The Learning Agenda serves to focus agency attention on the evidence needed to solve big problems through identifying and addressing priority questions relevant to the programs, policies, and regulations of an agency. It encourages deliberate and strategic planning of evidence-building activities, and it requires stakeholder engagement – both internally and externally – to help identify priorities for building evidence in areas that will be useful. Furthermore, Learning Agendas are part of agency strategic plans and should be aligned with an agency’s strategic goals and objectives. This alignment of evidence with strategic goals and objectives is an opening to bring the evidence-builders and the strategic planners together from the outset, which we hope offers a new framework in which evidence-building priorities are aligned with strategy. This elevates those important questions, both mission-strategic and operational, for which empirical answers will help agencies execute their missions more effectively and generate more evidence that is useful and useable.

The Evidence Act also established a statutory system for program evaluation to complement the existing statutory systems for statistics and performance. This includes the designation of agency Evaluation Officers to lead evaluation and Learning Agenda activities, as well as Annual Evaluation Plans and agency evaluation policies. This focus on evaluation is really important because there are some kinds of questions – for example, is a program or policy working as intended, is it causing the intended changes – that only evaluation can answer. To support high quality evaluation across the Federal government, OMB issued the first-ever governmentwide evaluation standards and practices in March 2020.

Beyond the Evidence Act, there has been increased momentum around evidence and evaluation in the past few months. In January 2021, the Biden Administration issued a Presidential Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking. The very first sentence states that it is the Administration’s policy “to make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.” The Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government also includes important work around equitable data, which is fundamental to supporting equity in evaluation. OMB expects that agency Learning Agendas and Annual Evaluation Plans include questions focused on equity, as well as other Administration priorities.

This is an exciting time for Federal evaluation, and we hope that Evaluation.gov will be a public resource for Federal agencies, external researchers, and other partners as we continue this important work. Stay tuned for new content and updates in the coming months, as well as links to agency Learning Agendas and FY 2023 Annual Evaluation Plans when they are posted early next year. These public documents will allow researchers and funding partners to easily see what priority questions agencies are trying to answer and align their own research portfolios to help answer those questions. We look forward to working together to build more evidence, through evaluation and other methods, that can ultimately be used to improve policies and programs on behalf of the American people.

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