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June 27, 2022

New Journal Article Highlights the Importance of the Federal Evaluation Workforce!

By Diana Epstein, Erika Liliedahl, and Erica Zielewski

The latest edition of New Directions for Evaluation—an official journal of the American Evaluation Association—examines evaluation policy with an emphasis on the Federal landscape, and features an article on the Federal evaluation workforce authored by members of OMB’s Evidence Team—Diana Epstein, Erica Zielewski, and Erika Liliedahl. The Federal evaluation workforce has many responsibilities that may be largely unknown or misunderstood. From determining evaluation needs and questions to designing evaluations to disseminating findings to overseeing evaluation contracts, the roles that this workforce plays reflect an agency’s evaluation policy. With the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 clarifying the need for evaluation as a key function of Federal agencies, understanding these roles is more important than ever; simply adding evaluation to a general analyst’s duties will not suffice. In their chapter, Evaluation Policy and the Federal Workforce, Evidence Team members leverage their experiences as Federal evaluators and with government-wide evaluation policy to explain the critical role that Federal employees play in developing and executing their agencies’ evaluation policies.

The Chapter begins by discussing the variations in organizational structure and funding for evaluation functions across the Federal Government, highlighting how these structures necessarily align to and drive an agency’s evaluation policy. The Chapter then describes the unique and varied roles Federal evaluation staff play in areas like managing evaluations, prioritizing methods and topics, addressing administrative requirements, interacting with program staff, and disseminating and using evaluation findings. Illustrating the versatility of this workforce, one evaluation staff person can be responsible for leading a portfolio of evaluation work for an entire policy area or a niche policy specialization, or may serve as a jack-of-all-trades across evaluation methods and policy areas. Unlike their peers in the private or non-profit sectors, the Federal evaluation workforce must operate in a highly bureaucratic environment and follow Federal policies and regulations in areas like acquisition and data management. Agencies have different norms and procedures across these dimensions, and the authors assert that these decisions reflect the many implicit and explicit dimensions of an agency’s evaluation policy.

The Chapter concludes by discussing how recent opportunities have empowered and elevated the Federal evaluation workforce, including through the Evaluation Officer Council and other communities of practice. As the breadth of work and sophistication of Federal evaluators has grown, staff are increasingly publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals and presenting their work at professional conferences such as the American Evaluation Association and the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. The influence of this critical workforce on the evaluation field both within and beyond government has grown and will continue to do so.

The Chapter on the Federal evaluation workforce is just one of many informative articles on evaluation policy featured in this special issue of the New Directions for Evaluation journal. The Issue includes an update to the American Evaluation Association’s Evaluation Roadmap, as well as chapters on international and agency evaluation policies, putting evaluation policies to work, learning agendas, a case study of the Department of Labor’s experience setting up the Chief Evaluation Office, and the future of evaluation policy. Want to read more? You can find all the chapters here.

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