December 9, 2021

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Evidence-Based Policymaking: Survey Data Identify Opportunities to Strengthen Capacity across Federal Agencies

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<div>What GAO Found The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) recognizes that federal decision makers need evidence about whether federal programs achieve intended results. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), evidence can include performance information, program evaluations, and other types of data, research, and analysis. Results from GAO's 2020 survey of federal managers showed that nearly all managers (an estimated 95 percent) reported having at least one type of evidence for their programs. When they had evidence, generally about half to two-thirds reported using it in different decision-making activities, such as when allocating resources. However, on most questions related to evidence-building capacity, only about one-third to half of managers across the federal government reported that different aspects of capacity (e.g., having staff with relevant skills) were present to a “great” or “very great” extent. Further, when GAO disaggregated these results, it found that reported aspects of capacity varied widely across federal agencies and types of evidence, as illustrated below. Federal Managers Reporting Presence of Selected Aspects of Evidence-Building Capacity, with the Range of Agencies' Responses Estimated Percentages Reporting to a “Great” or “Very Great” Extent OMB, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and various interagency councils, such as the Chief Data Officers Council, have taken some actions intended to strengthen federal evidence-building capacity. These include collecting and assessing information from various sources to identify (1) issues to address, and (2) best practices for enhancing capacity to share across agencies. GAO's survey results could help inform these efforts. For example, survey results could reinforce existing knowledge, or provide new insights, on cross-cutting and agency-specific capacity issues to address. Results could also inform efforts to identify and share promising practices. Why GAO Did This Study The Evidence Act created a framework for enhancing the federal government's capacity to build and use evidence in decision-making. The Evidence Act includes provisions for GAO to review its implementation. This report (1) describes federal managers' reported availability and use of evidence in decision-making activities, and (2) assesses federal managers' reported views on their agencies' capacity for evidence-building activities. To conduct its work, GAO analyzed results from a survey it administered from July to December 2020 to a stratified random sample of about 4,000 managers at 24 major federal agencies. The survey had a 56 percent response rate. Results can be generalized to the population of managers government-wide and at each agency. GAO also reviewed documents from OMB, OPM, and relevant interagency councils, and interviewed federal officials.</div>

What GAO Found

The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) recognizes that federal decision makers need evidence about whether federal programs achieve intended results. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), evidence can include performance information, program evaluations, and other types of data, research, and analysis.

Results from GAO’s 2020 survey of federal managers showed that nearly all managers (an estimated 95 percent) reported having at least one type of evidence for their programs. When they had evidence, generally about half to two-thirds reported using it in different decision-making activities, such as when allocating resources.

However, on most questions related to evidence-building capacity, only about one-third to half of managers across the federal government reported that different aspects of capacity (e.g., having staff with relevant skills) were present to a “great” or “very great” extent. Further, when GAO disaggregated these results, it found that reported aspects of capacity varied widely across federal agencies and types of evidence, as illustrated below.

Federal Managers Reporting Presence of Selected Aspects of Evidence-Building Capacity, with the Range of Agencies’ Responses

Estimated Percentages Reporting to a “Great” or “Very Great” Extent

OMB, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and various interagency councils, such as the Chief Data Officers Council, have taken some actions intended to strengthen federal evidence-building capacity. These include collecting and assessing information from various sources to identify (1) issues to address, and (2) best practices for enhancing capacity to share across agencies.

GAO’s survey results could help inform these efforts. For example, survey results could reinforce existing knowledge, or provide new insights, on cross-cutting and agency-specific capacity issues to address. Results could also inform efforts to identify and share promising practices.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Evidence Act created a framework for enhancing the federal government’s capacity to build and use evidence in decision-making.

The Evidence Act includes provisions for GAO to review its implementation. This report (1) describes federal managers’ reported availability and use of evidence in decision-making activities, and (2) assesses federal managers’ reported views on their agencies’ capacity for evidence-building activities.

To conduct its work, GAO analyzed results from a survey it administered from July to December 2020 to a stratified random sample of about 4,000 managers at 24 major federal agencies. The survey had a 56 percent response rate. Results can be generalized to the population of managers government-wide and at each agency. GAO also reviewed documents from OMB, OPM, and relevant interagency councils, and interviewed federal officials.

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As of August 31, 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had allocated and disbursed about $132.5 billion of this amount and had allocated but not yet disbursed about $21.5 billion; the remaining $24.1 billion was unallocated and undisbursed. On September 10, 2021, HHS announced that $17 billion of the previously unallocated $24.1 billion would be allocated for a general distribution to a broad range of providers who could document COVID-related revenue loss and expenses. HHS expected to begin disbursing the funds in December 2021. As of September 2021, HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) had not established time frames for implementing and completing post payment reviews for all PRF payments. In addition, the agency had not finalized procedures for recovery of overpayments or recovered the bulk of the overpayments that it had already identified. 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Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) appropriated $350 billion to the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) to provide payments from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (CSLFRF). The CSLFRF allocates funds to states, the District of Columbia, localities, tribal governments, and U.S. territories to cover a broad range of costs stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic’s fiscal effects. According to Treasury data, it had distributed approximately $240 billion from the CSLFRF to recipients as of August 31, 2021 (see figure). Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds Allocations and Treasury Distributions as of Aug. 31, 2021, by Recipient Type Note: For more details, see the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds enclosure in appendix I.aNon-entitlement units of local government are local governments typically serving populations of less than 50,000.As of July 2021, some of the 48 states that responded to GAO’s survey reported that they had somewhat less than or much less than sufficient capacity to report on their use of CSLFRF allocation consistent with federal requirements (17 of 48 states), capacity to disburse the funds (13 of 48 states), and apply appropriate internal controls and respond to inquiries about requirements (10 of 48 states). In addition, most states (44 of 48) reported that they had taken or planned to take additional steps—such as hiring new staff or reassigning existing staff—to help them manage their CSLFRF allocations. 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As of that same date (the most recent for which government-wide data was available), the federal government had obligated a total of $3.9 trillion and expended $3.4 trillion of the $4.8 trillion in COVID-19 relief funds that had been appropriated by these six laws, as reported by federal agencies. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to, and recover from, the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities. GAO also interviewed federal and state officials, stakeholders from organizations for localities, and other stakeholders.
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This report examines (1) the extent to which mortgage forbearance may have contributed to housing stability during the pandemic, (2) federal efforts to promote awareness of forbearance among delinquent borrowers, and (3) federal efforts to limit mortgage default and foreclosure risks after federal mortgage forbearance and foreclosure protections expire. GAO analyzed data on mortgage performance and the characteristics of borrowers who used forbearance from January 2020 to February 2021 using the National Mortgage Database (a federally managed, generalizable sample of single-family mortgages). GAO also reviewed data from Black Knight and the Mortgage Bankers Association on foreclosures and forbearance repayment. In addition, GAO interviewed representatives of federal entities about efforts to communicate with borrowers and limit default and foreclosure risks. 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