We are excited to kick off a new regular feature on Evaluation.gov – In the Spotlight! In these posts, we will introduce you to the people and offices across the Federal Government who are doing the hard work of undertaking program evaluation and shine a light on their many notable accomplishments and activities. In the Spotlight will elevate the exciting evaluation, research, and analytic work that is happening throughout agencies, with an emphasis on those offices and evaluation activities that often fly under the radar. These features will highlight how these activities and the staff that undertake them are critical to inform policies, program design, decision-making, and advance evidence-based policymaking. We can’t wait to share these features with you, and are delighted to highlight the innovative work underway in the Internal Revenue Service’s office of Research, Applied Analytics, and Statistics (RAAS) for our inaugural In the Spotlight.
Describe your office and what it does in one sentence.
Research, Applied Analytics, and Statistics (RAAS) is the largest research organization within the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), has over $60 million of funding for research, and provides data driven and innovative services to support effective and efficient tax administration in partnership with internal and external stakeholders.
Where is your office situated within your agency (department)?
The RAAS organization reports directly to one of the IRS Deputy Commissioners, the Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support (DCOS).
What is the mission of RAAS?
Official Mission Statement: RAAS leads a data driven culture through innovative and strategic research, analytics, statistics, and technology services to support effective and efficient tax administration in partnership with internal and external stakeholders. RAAS partners with IRS business units and operational leadership to improve business performance by applying advanced analytics solutions and a test-and-learn approach that builds knowledge and insight. RAAS also provides value for business units by employing analytics and experimentation to investigate important questions facing the IRS and to identify improvements that guide innovation.
RAAS is the authoritative source of information for foundational tax statistics and other information on the tax system. We produce required legislative reports as well as analytical reports on new or critical issues such as changes in tax laws, the tax gap and improper payments.
Can you describe a recent evaluation and how you or others in your agency used the results to inform programs, policies, operations, etc.?
Behavioral insights leverages work from the fields of psychology, neuroscience and behavioral economics to understand the specific factors that influence thinking and behavior. It is an effective method to better understand ways to improve voluntary compliance and reduce involuntary non-compliance. RAAS led the development of the Behavioral Insights Toolkit, which summarizes behavioral principles and research tools to aid practitioners engaging in behavioral insights work. We released the toolkit to the general public several years ago. Recently, RAAS led the development of a related guide that showcases the value of behavioral insights for senior decision makers. Over the past several years, IRS has incorporated behavioral insights principles and best practices in many evaluations and randomized control trails, including redesigning nine different IRS Delinquency Collection Notices and testing several other outreach efforts.
What are some effective ways that you’ve found to share evaluation results with decision makers in your agency?
RAAS leaders have been able share evaluation results in several ways:
- The IRS governs its evaluation efforts through a Data & Analytics Strategic Integration Board (DASIB) and Data & Analytics Advisory Group (DAAG), which are co-led by business and RAAS leaders.
- Presented significant research findings and outcomes from high-profile projects/initiatives aligned to goals and objectives within the FY 2018-22 IRS Strategic Plan
- Completed comprehensive IRS Enterprise Research Plans (ERP) in FY18 and FY19. The ERPs identified the most significant research initiatives across various IRS business units supporting 2018-22 IRS Strategic Planning goals and objectives
- Completed IRS Evaluation Plans in 2020 and 2021, aligned to the Treasury Evaluation Plan as required by the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018
Please describe important tools and data sources used in your agency for evidence/evaluative research:
RAAS controls and maintains one of the federal government’s largest data repositories in the Compliance Data Warehouse (CDW). The CDW helps over 10,000 employees in the IRS and Treasury analyze massive amounts of data to explore unknown patterns, identify risk populations, combat ID theft and refund fraud, and study taxpayer behavior.
CDW’s flexible architecture for analysis and collaboration allows for rapid, iterative computing to develop and improve decision making for IRS operations. Some key features of CDW include access to nearly 70 data sources from IRS legacy systems, third party repositories, and other data; searchable metadata for over 125,000 data elements; multiple tools for mathematical and statistical analysis, visualization, and reporting; and an open, flexible architecture for ad-hoc and iterative computing.
What advice would you give to agencies that are just starting this work or who may be new to evaluation?
RAAS would offer the following advice for agencies starting work with its Learning Agenda and Evaluation Plan requirements:
- Seek and obtain buy-in from agency leaders on a commitment for completing evaluative research efforts
- Designate a champion who will lead the development of learning agenda or evaluation plans. In the IRS, Kevin Cecco was instrumental in building support and gaining consensus while working with the Treasury team
- Ensure that Learning Agenda and Evaluation Plan questions and initiatives align to agency strategic goals and objectives
- Establish a strong governance and collaboration framework that allows for open and candid discussions for conducting evaluative research
- Be as transparent as possible with agency workforce and stakeholders in outlining proposed research initiatives and sharing final results and outcomes on selected evaluations
Where can readers find more information about your office?
- IRS Behavioral Insights Toolkit
- FTA Behavioral Insights for Better Tax Administration: A Brief Guide