Trump Budget Uses Research Evidence to Justify Spending Cuts

President Trump’s full budget proposal for the coming federal fiscal year (FY 2018), which was released earlier today, has shown that evidence can be used not just to justify increased funding for programs that work, but also to cut funding for those that the administration says do not.

During the Obama administration, evidence was typically used for continuous improvement purposes or to shift funding from low performing programs to others that seemed more promising. At the time, conservative analysts criticized the administration for failing to use evidence to reduce the size of government.

For better or for worse, this can’t be said of the new Trump budget, which recommends substantial cuts in Medicaid, SNAP, and several other federal safety net programs. Many of the proposed cuts, which are included in a list of major savings and reforms, are justified by citing what the administration says is insufficient evidence of impact.

These include:

  • Eliminating the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program (Agriculture): -$201 million
  • Eliminating the Rural Business and Cooperative Service (Agriculture): -$95 million
  • Eliminating the Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants program (ED): $190 million
  • Eliminating 21st Century Community Learning Centers (ED): -$1.164 billion
  • Reducing the Gaining Early Awareness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) program (ED): -$103 million
  • Eliminating Supporting Effective Instruction (SEI) State Grants (Title II State grants) (ED): -$2.345 billion
  • Eliminating Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants (ED): -$190 million
  • Eliminating the Teacher Quality Partnerships (TPQ) program (ED):- $43 million
  • Reducing Federal TRIO Programs (ED): -$90 million
  • Eliminating Health Professions and Nursing Training programs (HHS): -$403 million
  • Eliminating the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) (HUD): -$2.994 billion
  • Reducing WIOA Titles I and III Formula Programs (HUD): -$2.994 billion
  • Eliminating the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Susan Harwood Training Grants (DOL): -$11 million
  • Eliminating Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation (NRC) / NeighborWorks: -$148 million
  • Eliminating the NASA Office of Education: -$78 million
  • Eliminating Regional Commissions: -$156 million

Are these programs actually ineffective? There has already been substantial pushback on this question and there will likely be more.  Still, the fact that arguments over evidence have been elevated to a central role in the budget debate is probably a step forward.

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney made the connection to evidence explicit in remarks the day before the president’s budget was officially released. According to UPI:

Mulvaney said the Trump White House budget takes a different approach to budgetary decision by using evidence-based approaches to determining budget allocations.

“We are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” Mulvaney told reporters late Monday. “We’re going to measure compassion and success by the number of people we help get off of those programs to get back in charge of their own lives. We’re not going to measure our success by how much money we spend but by how many people we actually help.”

The next step is a detailed review by the GOP-controlled Congress, where many of the president’s proposals are probably dead on arrival.

Continued Commitment to Building and Using Evidence

Despite the coming disagreements over how the administration has interpreted and used evidence in this budget request, there may be broader bipartisan agreement over its general commitment to further building out the evidence base. As in previous years, the budget includes a chapter devoted to the topic.

The chapter includes much of the same language seen in earlier budgets, including support for developing a portfolio of evidence, learning agendas, evidence infrastructures (including chief evaluation officers), and increasing the use of administrative data.

The Trump administration also cites the forthcoming recommendations of the bipartisan Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, saying it is looking forward to “working with Congress to increase the production and use of evidence throughout the government and for public use.”

EIR Funding Increased, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program Cut

The status of a few signature evidence-based programs in the budget was mixed. While the Department of Education was targeted for substantial cuts overall, one program that received a proposed increase is the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program, the successor to i3.

The proposal would increase the program’s budget to $370 million from its current $100 million, with the increase devoted to building the evidence base for school choice programs. The Institute of Education Sciences is flat-funded, but the What Works Clearinghouse and Regional Education Labs received favorable mention in the evidence chapter.

On the other hand, the budget proposes eliminating the evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) program. However, it would continue the evidence-based PREP program another two years.

“It is encouraging that the budget proposes to extend the Personal Responsibility Education Program, which provides evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention education for some of the most vulnerable youth around the country.  However, eliminating the gold-standard evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program is extremely short sighted,” said Andrea Kane, Vice President for Policy & Strategic Partnerships for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Kane called the cuts to TPP “equivalent to building a skyscraper and abandoning the project halfway through the construction process.”


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