Clock Starts on Naming Leaders, Beginning Work on Evidence Act

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Agencies now have official guidance on how to meet the first phase of requirements under the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act.

Federal agencies have until the weekend to name the key officials responsible for drafting and implementing their data strategies as the government begins work on the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act.

As agencies push to meet multiple mandates to better use all the data they collect, the Office of Management and Budget offered some assistance Thursday with the release of guidance on implementing the first phase of the Evidence Act.

The table is set for the government to significantly improve its use of data in 2019, with legislative cover through the act, as well as other OMB policies, such as the finalized principles and practices of the Federal Data Strategy and a finalized Year 1 Action Plan coming in August.

The Evidence Act passed at the start of the year requires agencies to collect and classify their data in ways that can help better meet their individual missions. Included within that is a mandate for all agencies to establish a chief data officer to manage this process.

“Despite previous efforts and resource commitments, federal agencies often lack the data and evidence necessary to make critical decisions about program operations, policy and regulations, and to gain visibility into the impact of resource allocation on achieving program objectives,” acting OMB Director Russell Vought wrote in the new guidance.

Vought notes the variety of other data laws and regulations already on the books, but says the new law “creates a new paradigm by calling on agencies to significantly rethink how they currently plan and organize evidence-building, data management and data access functions to ensure an integrated and direct connection to data and evidence needs.”

Implementation across government will occur over four phases, according to the policy: learning agendas, personnel and planning; open data access and management; data access for statistical purposes; and program evaluation.

The first two phases are scheduled to wrap by Saturday, when the law officially goes into effect. The third phase—data access for statistical purposes—will go through the one-year mark of the law’s passage to Jan. 14. The initial program evaluation phase is expected to take about six months from there, with ongoing implementation and reporting into the future.

The guidance released Thursday focuses on phase one, split into three areas. From the guidance:

Learning Agendas: The Learning Agendas are, in many ways, the driving force for several of the activities required by and resulting from the Evidence Act. The creation of Learning Agendas requires agencies to identify and set priorities for evidence building, in consultation with various stakeholders.

Personnel: The newly-designated positions—Chief Data Officer, Evaluation Officer and Statistical Official—all play key roles in leading these activities, including addressing the new reporting requirements. Their corresponding interagency councils likewise support these functions and roles. These senior officials will also serve on a newly required Data Governance Body inside their agency, which will set and enforce priorities for managing data as a strategic asset to support the agency in meeting its mission and, importantly, answering the priority questions laid out in the agency Learning Agenda.

Planning: The Evidence Act augments ongoing agency strategic planning activities to promote better use and management of data and evidence, consistent with the GPRA Modernization Act 11 and OMB Circular A-11 Part VI and agency-specific management routines, such as through data-driven performance and strategic reviews. Specifically, Learning Agendas, which identify agencies' priority questions, drive related planning activities, including:

  • Developing annual Evaluation Plans, which will summarize the specific evaluations an agency plans to undertake to address those questions.
  • Undertaking Capacity Assessments, which, as part of agencies' strategic plans, will help agencies to assess their ability and infrastructure to carry out evidence-building activities like foundational fact finding, performance measurement, policy analysis and program evaluation.
  • Identifying the data needed to answer those questions.

The second requirement—personnel—has the tightest deadlines. Agencies have until Saturday, July 13, to appoint a chief data officer, evaluation officer and statistical official. Agencies must report those names to OMB and add them to the data section of their websites no later than Aug. 2.

All three positions will be part of the Data Governance Body, which the agency head is required to establish no later than Sept. 30.

OMB plans to hold a mandatory Evidence Act orientation meeting in September “to gain a fuller understanding of the requirements under this guidance, develop a common baseline of knowledge about key competencies required for their roles, learn about resources for fulfilling statutory responsibilities, and meet and build relationships with their peers and with OMB officials to promote interagency coordination and collaboration.”

Agency evaluation officers have until September to begin work on the Learning Agendas. The first interim agenda will be due by September 2020. Those will then be updated and annotated over time, with the final agendas wrapped in to the Final Strategic Plan to be released in February 2022. Those officers will also be expected to develop Capacity Assessments along the same timeline.

Agencies also have until September to show progress in developing their evaluation plans—the responsibility of the evaluation officer. The finalized plans, which should run through 2022, are due by September 2020.