The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018: Impact and Implications for Government Agencies

by Michelle Flores


On January 14, 2019, the Federal Government made strides toward evidence-based policy decisions by enacting the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act). The Evidence Act underscores the importance of data-driven decision-making, emphasizing collaboration, coordination, and confidentiality in advancing governmental evidence-building functions. Through program evaluation, agencies, such as the Department of Energy (DOE), have identified and addressed inefficiencies, saving the agencies millions of dollars. These savings are an example of the benefits federal agencies can realize by embracing the principles of the Evidence Act.

Does this Act impact your agency?

Figure 1. 24 CFO-Act Agencies

Title I of the Evidence Act mandates the 24 CFO-Act agencies to take several measures to strengthen their evidence-building capabilities when reviewing their portfolios. These agencies must appoint designated Evaluation Officers tasked with overseeing evaluation activities within the agency. Additionally, agencies are expected to develop comprehensive evidence-building plans, which include Learning Agendas, Annual Evaluation Plans, and agency-wide evaluation policies. These plans will outline how agencies will conduct evaluations, what areas they will focus on, and how they will integrate findings into their operations.

In addition to creating plans, these agencies are required to conduct capacity assessments. These assessments aim to evaluate and enhance the agencies’ abilities to build evidence effectively for their programs. Capacity assessments address the relevance of a program or funding stream to the agency’s mission, the size of the program in terms of funding or population served, and the significance of addressing knowledge gaps regarding the program, the target population, or the issues the program aims to resolve.

Strategies for Effective Program Evaluation

Figure 2. Evaluation Process

When implementing effective program evaluation strategies, agencies must adhere to a set of best practices to ensure a smooth transition. This implementation involves assembling evaluation teams that possess the necessary evaluation and subject-matter expertise to carry out assessments. Clear evaluation designs are critical and should lay out specific objectives that align with the priorities of the agency, plans for data collection and analysis, and considerations for key stakeholders. Before beginning evaluations, teams need to conduct preliminary data assessments to understand data availability, quality, and the methodological challenges they might encounter, as well as to predict potential outcomes.

Furthermore, presenting comprehensive findings is critical. Conclusions must be concise, evidence-based, and presented to reflect the initial design. The replicability of the findings should also be considered, ensuring that the results can be disseminated effectively to all relevant stakeholders. Moreover, inclusive post-evaluation action plans should be crafted to analyze the evaluation process, highlight lessons learned, discuss unexpected findings, and provide actionable recommendations for management.

The Real-World Impact of Program Evaluations

Regular program evaluations aren’t just about compliance—they are essential for efficacy and efficiency. For instance:

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has highlighted evaluations’ crucial role in fiscal responsibility, pointing out their effectiveness in uncovering cost savings and program improvement opportunities. The GAO’s 2019 Performance and Accountability Report noted that thorough evaluations have led to $214.7 billion in financial benefits. These benefits are the result of identifying and implementing optimizations across various programs.

Similarly, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) showcased the significant impact of evaluations through its “Value of Program Evaluation” case studies. A notable example includes the DOE Hydrogen Program, which, through insights gained from annual peer reviews, managed to save $30 million. The ENERGY STAR program in Wisconsin saw an increase in light bulb sales as a result of these evaluative processes, and another DOE initiative was able to reduce the costs of web tools by 90%. These instances demonstrate the potential of evaluations to reveal and capitalize on opportunities for enhancing efficiency and achieving significant cost reductions.

Key Takeaways


The Evidence Act mandates the 24 CFO-Act agencies to conduct regular program evaluations of their portfolios for improved efficiency and accountability. While agencies are obligated to adhere to its stipulations, integrating the Act’s principles into their operations can cultivate a strong culture of evaluation, positioning agencies at the leading edge of innovation, enhancing efficiency, and achieving excellence in public service.