White House stresses stakeholder engagement in Evidence Act guidance

Three years after its passage, the Biden administration is now trying to provide clarity and additional recommendations for agencies still struggling to implement the Evidence-Based Policy Act.

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The White House has released new guidance for federal agencies requiring department leaders to implement critical evidence-building provisions of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy Act, nearly three years after its passage.

Evidence-based policymaking groups have been calling for stricter implementation of the legislation and additional codifying measures since at least 2019, along with guidance for agencies on stakeholder engagement and the importance of public-private coordination around evidence-based capabilities.

On Wednesday, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum calling on all agencies across the federal government to satisfy the Title I deliverables featured in the Evidence Act, including smaller and non-CFO Act agencies which may not yet have begun implementing their learning agendas and evaluations plans as outlined in the bill.

The memorandum provides further clarity for certain deliverables -- like the appointment of evaluation officers -- to help those agencies get started, recommending relevant positions are filled with senior career officials who possess a demonstrated expertise, rather than a political appointee.

Moreover, the memorandum stressed the need for agencies to conduct continued stakeholder engagement "in a manner and using methods that are transparent, generate trust, and advance equity." It also offered recommendations like participatory research methods and technical working groups, as well as listening sessions and one-on-one consultations with those affected by agency policies, to further promote stakeholder engagement.

Stakeholder engagement appeared throughout the document, and its importance was highlighted in the introduction. The guidance itself was drafted with the help of policymaking groups who have been calling for such recommendations around the Evidence Act, including the Data Foundation.

"The broad applicability of OMB’s new guidance to the whole of government suggests the promise of coherent planning, leadership, capacity, and resources for generating actionable evidence that can both address policymaker needs and improve government services for the American people," Nick Hart, president of the Data Foundation, said in a statement. "OMB’s new guidance provides clarity for agencies and partners about the role of stakeholder engagement and coordination on data and evidence capabilities in order to generate useful evidence that is then actually used in practice."

OMB urged agencies in its memo not to think of the implementation of the Evidence Act as an exercise in compliance, instead writing: “Agencies should not simply produce the required documents and then turn their attention elsewhere; success requires that agencies develop processes and practices that establish habitual and routine reliance on evidence across agency functions and demand new or better evidence when it is needed.”

President Joe Biden previously signed a memorandum during his first month in office that said his administration would make "evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data." That memo required agency leaders to form evidence-based policies and fulfill the annual evaluation plans included in the Evidence Act.

The new OMB memo also featured a list of deliverables with timelines throughout FY2021 and FY2022, including a September deadline for full draft learning agendas and capacity assessments. The office requested final evaluation plans for FY2023 and other deliverables no later than February next year.

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