Heritage Foundation Endorses Increased Use of Evidence in Budgeting for Trump Administration

The conservative Heritage Foundation, which has been playing a significant role in advising the transition team for the incoming Trump administration, has included a section on evidence-based policymaking in its recently released Blueprint for a New Administration.

The Heritage document was released on November 1, but it has drawn increased attention in recent weeks as the organization’s influence with the incoming administration has grown.

“Part gatekeeper, part brain trust and part boots on the ground, Heritage is both a major presence on the transition team itself and a crucial conduit between Trump’s orbit and the once-skeptical conservative leaders who ultimately helped get him elected,” according to a story from Politico.

The Trump domestic policy transition team is being overseen by former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Blackwell has long standing ties to Heritage. His transition portfolio includes the Department of Education, Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Health and Human Services.

Heritage is recommending that the Trump administration reinstitute the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), which was used under President George W. Bush to determine whether programs worked and to help justify budget decisions.

The OMB tool had a mixed record during the Bush years. Congress often ignored the administration’s recommendations, particularly during the last two years of the Bush administration (2007-2009) when Congress was controlled by Democrats. With Republicans now in charge, a new PART could have substantially more influence.

Some observers caution, however, that the real role of evidence will not become clear until after the president-elect announces more appointments, including the new OMB director. Two names floated for the position are Gary Cohn, a Goldman Sachs executive, and Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC).

Heritage Recommendations

The Heritage Foundation’s evidence recommendations follow below:

Institute Evidence-Based Policymaking.

The next Administration should improve the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) along with a fiscally disciplined, evidence-based review within OMB. PART was an attempt by the Bush Administration to assess the effectiveness of every federal program’s purpose, management, and results. The extremely ambitious PART was a first-of-its-kind attempt to link federal budgetary decisions to performance. President Barack Obama regrettably terminated PART. A revitalized review process would require federal agencies to present OMB with credible evidence on their performance. Budget requests from agencies should be based on their performance, not just desired levels of funding.

The next President can encourage Congress to be more fiscally disciplined by requiring evidence of program efficacy in budget recommendations. Instituting an improved PART and an evidence-based review would help the President pressure Congress to eliminate wasteful spending, and to make federal programs operate as efficiently as possible. Agencies should be required to review programs at intervals no longer than every five years, and require ongoing performance monitoring.

When practiced correctly, evidence-based policymaking would allow policymakers, especially at the OMB, to base funding decisions on empirically rigorous evaluations of program results. Given scarce federal resources, federal policymakers should fund only those programs that have been proven to work.

Leadership is crucial to setting an evidence-based agenda.

  1. The next President needs to send a clear message to the OMB and the entire federal bureaucracy that the West Wing believes evidence-based policymaking should influence budget decisions.
  2. The OMB director needs to develop clear standards for collecting and analyzing evidence of program efficacy for budgetary decision making.

David B. Muhlhausen, “Evidence-Based Policymaking: A Primer,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3063, October 15, 2015.

David B. Muhlhausen, “Evaluating Federal Social Programs: Finding Out What Works and What Does Not,” testimony before the Subcommittee on Human Resources, Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives, July 17, 2013.

David B. Muhlhausen, Do Federal Social Programs Work? (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2013).


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