Although the Obama administration wants more scrutiny of program performance, some agencies need help just getting started. That, anyway, seems to be the between-the-lines message of a new Government Accountability Office report.
It looks at how a handful of agencies decide which programs to evaluate, with the inference that they could serve as a model for others that aren’t sure how to begin.
Most use performance measures to track progress toward goals, but few appear to conduct in-depth evaluations to see how programs are actually working, the GAO told Sen. Daniel Akaka, the Hawaii Democrat who requested the review.
The first step, naturally, is deciding which programs to evaluate. The GAO looked at the Education Department and three other “mature” agencies with experience in that area.
The four used “remarkably similar” general criteria that involved identifying: strategic priorities that represent major program or policy concerns; specific program problems or opportunities; critical unanswered questions; and the feasibility of conducting a valid study, GAO says.
“Most agencies indicated no hierarchy among these criteria,” the report states. “Rather, they considered them simultaneously to create the best possible portfolio of studies.” All four of those yardsticks “appear key to setting an effective evaluation agenda” capable of answering important questions.
Everyone else listening?