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OMB Director Donovan Urges Evidence-Based Policymaking

The Bipartisan Policy Center hosted a panel discussion on August 8 titled “Follow the Evidence: The Promise and Potential for a Different Approach to Policymaking.” The event, featuring Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, focused on the importance of evidence-based policymaking. Mr. Donovan and other panelists discussed innovative paths to effective governance and using data analysis and rigorous research to evaluate effective programs, implement reforms, and make critical budget decisions.

Mr. Donovan kicked off the event by explaining the dangers of partisanship in Congress. He stated that ideological differences, lack of transparency, and approval ratings lower than 20% have hampered policymakers in recent years.  Mr. Donovan said that evidence-based policymaking would lead to efficient and fact-based legislation to improve program effectiveness, while holding Congress accountable for government transparency. He and other panelists praised House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and the Obama administration for their work in support of such efforts to create a more effective legislative branch.

Speaker Ryan’s and House Republicans’ recently released anti-poverty agenda includes recommendations for funding federal programs based on evidence. While the agenda did not include specific legislative proposals, its recommendations may be incorporated into future bills that could impact the way housing and community development programs are funded.

Discussing his experience as former HUD Secretary, Mr. Donovan explained that an evaluation of Housing Choice Voucher data led to identifying a local model that more effectively implemented the program. This insight allowed HUD to identify failing models and apply lessons learned. Mr. Donovan stated that this experience demonstrated the effectiveness of evaluating data to identify and implement best practices nationwide.

Ron Haskins of the Commission on Evidence Based Policy stated that the goal of evidence-based policymaking is to design a rigorous evaluation program that ultimately steers public resources to the most effective and relevant programs. Like Mr. Donovan, Mr. Haskins emphasized the importance of fixing underperforming programs rather than cutting them to achieve deficit reduction.

All the panelists stressed the significance of bipartisan support for reevaluating federally funded programs. They also agreed that the goal of efficiency in public spending has the ability to bridge ideological differences and to garner bipartisan support for evidence-based policymaking in the future. 

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