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US Government Looking for “Rigor” in Evaluation

9 November 2009

Mead Over at CGDev posts about a recent White House memorandum calling for increased emphasis on program evaluations from the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

One particular line resonated with me: “Attract and retain talented researchers in an office with standing within the agency.” Does this mean the Ph.D.s like me who are on the job market (where things are admittedly bleak) might actually land something — albeit working for the government and not the beautiful ivory towers about which we still dream? Seriously though, much as I think the work I do is important and that my training in how to identify causal relationships is valued, I don’t know that I want every agency in the government to be funded to do the same. Rather, I’d want the great majority of my tax dollars going to actually “doing” something rather than measuring how well something is done. Especially if the folks “doing” and the folks “measuring” are in the same office, we’re setting it up for one employee to blow the whistle on another’s poor performance. That might save us some tax dollars in the end, but I’d hate to play on that department’s softball team. Couldn’t we just have one agency that specialized in evaluating, or hire some external auditors on short term contracts?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    9 November 2009 12:23 pm

    I disagree–having evaluation centralized in one agency would make one a pariah and think of evaluation as *their* issue rather than *ours* and one that needs to be considered in big program/policy/funding considerations. If it’s going to be a person in government, the person should be in house and there at all the meetings along the way; good evaluation starts at design. Furthermore, there is a fair amount of expertise and specialisation that needs to happen: having someone from NASA evaluate something at USAID wouldn’t make sense, but having people within each organization would.

    That said, I would argue that it makes more sense to have independent evaluators for a variety of reasons (I won’t bother to list them; many are self-evident). Moreover, it would make sense to fund universities with existing experience and capacity to do such research. Reinventing the evaluation wheel within government or hiring one economist and buying them a copy of Stata may well be an incomplete or inefficient solution to the problem, even do more harm than good to the impressions of evaluation within government.

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