What Works in Federal Policy
May 2021
Federal Standard of Excellence Blog Series

Each month, this newsletter draws insights and analysis from Results for America's 2020 Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence. This month's spotlight is on Criteria 4: Performance Management and Improvement.

Performance management and continuous improvement are critical activities for the federal government in optimizing program and service delivery, driving budget decisions, and ultimately, building an organizational culture focused on improving results. The Performance Management/Continuous Improvement Criteria in Results for America’s Invest in What Works Federal Standards of Excellence (Federal Standard of Excellence) outlines how federal agencies can:
4.1 Create strategic plans that have aligned outcome goals and metrics;
4.2 Use outcome data to improve a program’s return on investment; and 
4.2 Implement robust data-driven learning cycles processes. 

With these activities in place, an agency can rapidly and regularly track the quality of their programs to adjust and improve performance to deliver better results more effectively and efficiently.

Read our analysis and insights in our new blog series on Medium!
Evidence and Data in the News

David Medina, COO and Co-founder of Results for America, and Yasmina Vinci, Executive Director of the National Head Start Association, discuss the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the precipitous decline on pre-K enrollment rates in communities across the country. With the “once-in-a-generation” potential investment of $425 billion in early childhood care and education under the American Families Plan, local and state governments must look to programs such as Head Start and allow evidence-based practices to lead the way.

Relatedly, in case you missed it: NPR's Planet Money blog featured the growing evidence on universal pre-K. “The Case for Universal Pre-K Just Got Stronger” takes a look at the promising evidence that show these improved outcomes include a 7-10% return on investment for the taxpayers through increased economic gains for children that attended pre-K along with decreased public spending on social programs later in life.

The Biden Administration has committed to decreasing racial inequities throughout the federal government. The President has already taken the critical step of establishing the Equitable Data Working Group, a group chaired by the U.S. chief statistician, the U.S. chief technology officer, and other federal data leaders. 

U.S. House Representative Mikie Sherill (D-NJ) discusses the importance of the Fund for Innovation and Success in Higher Education Act (FINISH Act), which she and U.S. House Representative John Katko (R-NY) introduced, that authorizes innovation grants to develop and scale evidence-based student supports that help students access and graduate with a post-secondary education. The bill also supports the Department of Education’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences, to build an evidence-base for higher education of what works for students. Those initiatives can demonstrate impact, through a rigorous independent evaluation, such as CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), can receive funds to expand their services to new communities.

Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, President and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign, offers ways states can utilize existing funding streams, like the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WOIA), as well as COVID-19 relief dollars from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) associated with the American Rescue Plan and the CAREs Act, to modernize their data systems. Jennifer Bell-Ewanger writes that “robust data systems that truly support students, educators and communities take time to build: to create infrastructure, set up proper governance, create a culture in which people get the information they need to make decisions.”
Evidence-Based Policy Ideas and Opportunities

Nick Hart, President of the Data Foundation, discusses the potential positive impacts of The National Secure Data Service Act (H.R. 3133) introduced by U.S. House Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) earlier this month. These include creating a demonstration project for a National Data Service at the National Science Foundation to address cross sector data sharing challenges, while leveraging the expertise of data leaders to improve federal government data access and infrastructure.   

Power to the Public, a new book authored by Tara Dawson McGuinness and Hana Schank of New America, argues that while government bodies have never had greater access to data and technology, there are core challenges governments should address: user-centric approaches, coupled with policies that enable implementation of such strategies.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Chief Evaluation Office recently launched a predictive simulation model, the Worker Paid Leave Usage Simulation (Worker PLUS). Researchers and federal, state and municipal policymakers can use the open-source tool to estimate the effects of worker leave scenarios and policy options on worker leave-taking behavior.
This new evidence review by J-PAL North America details what forms of tutoring are most effective and for whom as education leaders, policymakers, and funders work to combat learning loss, improve student learning outcomes, and minimize growth of academic disparities.

David Yokum, Director of The Policy Lab, has released another episode of his podcast, 30,000 Leagues, discussing Year Up; a workforce development program that aims to bridge the opportunity divide and help young low-income adults who don't have a college degree find meaningful work. In the episode of 30,000 Leagues, David Yokum chats with David Fein of Abt Associates about his newly-released five-year results from a major randomized controlled trial evaluating the effectiveness of Year Up.
Federal Government Updates
U.S. Treasury Issues Interim Final Rule for ARP State and Local Fiscal Relief Fund:
The U.S. Department of the Treasury released new guidance regarding the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds; strengthening the ability of state, county, city, and tribal governments to invest their $350 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to get better results for residents and make progress at the pace and scale our country needs. The Treasury Department guidance states:
"Recipients may also use this funding to build their internal capacity to successfully implement economic relief programs, with investments in data analysis, targeted outreach, technology infrastructure, and impact evaluations."
Results for America is strongly encouraged by the Administration's approach. Results for America and its coalition partners in cities, counties and states across the country had urged the Biden-Harris Administration to clarify that these ARP funds could be used to build and use data and evidence to support their immediate and long-term response and recovery needs in an equitable manner.
Latest from Results for America
Recent data collected from the Nurse Family Partnership program in Birmingham, Alabama partnered with Results for America’s Economic Mobility Team demonstrates that mothers offered additional medical and financial support saw better outcomes for both infant and maternal health.
Results for America: State Education Fellows Cohort Announced
Results for America recently launched a second, expanded cohort of leaders from 10 State Education Agencies (SEAs). These high-impact leaders are committed to creating better, more equitable opportunities for students by building and using evidence, and investing in data-driven strategies that will improve outcomes for all. Learn more about the Fellows and their work here.
What Works Cities Certification Medium: “The Data and the Details
The latest installment of "The Data and the Details" takes you into the What Works Cities (WWC) Certification data to analyze the relationship between a city's budget size and its data-driven capacity—unpacking the assumption that that cities with larger budgets at their disposal are better positioned to demonstrate data-informed decision-making and excel on the practices outlined by the WWC Certification.