Key Issues > Using Data and Evidence to Improve Federal Programs
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Using Data and Evidence to Improve Federal Programs

Federal agencies should use data and evidence to understand and improve the performance of their programs.

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Each year, the federal government spends trillions of dollars to deliver goods and services to its citizens and address various national issues. For example, Congress appropriated $2.6 trillion in 2020 to help people, businesses, the health care system, and state and local governments respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evidence—which includes information such as data, statistics, and rigorous studies known as program evaluations—can provide important insights that could improve the federal government’s performance. Federal agencies have taken some actions to ensure they have sufficient evidence to inform their decisions.

For example:

  • Agencies have designed programs that develop and use evidence—such as pay for success projects and tiered evidence grants. Similarly, performance partnership initiatives allow federal agencies to give their grant recipients flexibility (such as in how they use funding) in exchange for assessing if outcomes improve.
  • Agencies are also working to establish processes to assess existing evidence, determine whether new evidence is needed, and set priorities to get decision makers the evidence they need. Collaboration within an agency can help ensure that evidence-building efforts are effective, but some agencies could better collaborate on setting priorities.

However, although the availability of one type of evidence (performance data) has increased over time, neither individual federal agencies nor the federal government as a whole have fully adopted its use in decision-making.

Federal decision makers could more effectively:  

Practices to Enhance the Use of Data in Management Activities
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  • portrait of Michelle Sager
    • Michelle Sager
    • Director, Strategic Issues
    • 202-512-6806