GAO survey of federal managers suggests progress needed on evidence-based policymaking

One-third of respondents reported using evidence to inform the public about a program’s performance.
The facade of the GAO building in downtown Washington, D.C. (Cory Doctorow/Flickr)

Only about 45%-47% of federal managers believe that staff within their agencies have the skills needed to collect, analyze and use different types of evidence, according to a survey by the Government Accountability Office.

The study, which was carried out by the oversight body between July and December last year, identified further concerns about the availability of tools and personnel needed to enact policies based on the foundation of clear evidence and analysis.

“These results suggest the finding from the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking’s report—that capacity to support evidence-building functions is uneven across agencies—persists,” said GAO.

The survey was carried out as part of GAO’s work to review the implementation of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, a responsibility that is encoded within the legislation itself.


Of respondents to the survey, between 50% and 60% said that within their specific programs, staff had the skills needed to collect, analyze and use different types of evidence. About half of federal managers reported that aspects of evidence building capacity existed to a “great” or “very great” extent across different types of evidence.

Despite the finding, nearly all federal managers – an estimated 95% of respondents – reported having at least one type of evidence for their programs. When evidence was available, about half to two-thirds reported using it in different decision-making activities, including in the allocation of resources.

Additionally, the survey found that only about one-third of managers surveyed said they used evidence to inform the public about a program’s performance.

In 2016, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016, which established a commission to examine the comprehensive data infrastructure associated with federal policymaking.

When it reported in September 2017, the commission found that agencies’ capacities to generate a range of evidence were uneven and that where it existed, it was often poorly coordinated.


The Evidence Act, which was subsequently passed in 2019, represents a continuation of laws and executive actions to establish officer positions to improve federal government management, which began with the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990.

In its report, GAO concluded that the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management should use its findings to improve implementation of the act, but did not offer further recommendations.

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