Similar Thinking in the

United States of America


The following extracts from a 2001 paper “Linking Resources to Results” by two organizations in the USA, the Council for Excellence in Government and the Committee for Economic Development, show that the need for an arms-length, non-partisan source of information on federal program effectiveness is not unique to Canada.

A Proposed Centre for Program Assessment in the USA… an American equivalent of our proposed Office of the Evaluator General

    The 2001 paper from the USA calls for: “creation of an autonomous, nonpartisan, entity - a Center for Domestic Program Assessment - that would produce high-quality analysis of program and policy performance, presented in timely fashion and in ways decision makers can use.” This is much like the Office of the Evaluator General that we envisage.

    “The Center would encourage and support evaluation of individual programs by federal agencies and have the capacity to initiate such evaluations where necessary.”  This American view, like ours, is that any new high-level evaluation function would not replace the internal evaluation offices within federal departments and agencies. It would complement them.

Similar Limitations of Existing Structures

    The US paper explains that the Government Accounting Office (GAO), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) do not actually conduct complex evaluations.  

  1. The Government Accounting Office: The GAO has traditionally focused most heavily on the essential issues of financial integrity and the old triptych of “fraud, waste, and abuse.” The GAO [like Canada’s Office of the Auditor General] does do some independent research. In the main, they collate, assess, and apply what others have done. In recent years, GAO’s emphasis is shifting to assessment of how well programs work and how well government is performing in the context of national need.

  2. The Congressional Budget Office: For reasons of charter, tradition and placement, the work of the CBO [like Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer] focuses on analysis, not recommendations. The CBO does not generally make program or funding-level policy recommendations that might improve the effectiveness of the spending it estimates.

  3. The Office of Management and Budget: The OMB serves in an advisory role to the President, and in that role seeks to learn and apply evaluation work that others have done in advising the President on policy and resource allocation options. But OMB does not undertake its own impact evaluations nor have extensive expertise in high-quality impact evaluations. Furthermore, OMB is constrained, by virtue of its institutional position, to adhere to the President’s current policy stances in its public statements. [There is no clear Canadian equivalent to the OMB although staff of the Privy Council Office (PCO) might be expected to advise the Prime Minister on similar issues.]

    The Center for Program Assessment that is recommended by the authors of the US paper aims to meet the need for an independent institution that has expertise in high-quality impact evaluations and, where necessary, the ability to carry out such evaluations. It would serve a unique function that the existing government analytical agencies such as GAO, CBO, and OMB do not now serve.

Similar Awareness of the Importance of Timing for Critical Evaluations

    The US authors write: “Often evaluation results are not available in time to influence decision making. Large scale, multi-year program demonstrations and evaluations - the types most likely to yield reliable data - are often not completed until after the associated policy had been decided on, a new program implemented, or the original problem diminished in importance (in fact or as a political matter). Evaluators and data analysts do not necessarily time their reports to when decision makers need their output, such as upcoming reauthorization dates or funding cycles. Decision makers themselves do not often authorize and fund analyses early enough to give them what they will need several years in the future.”  [We have elsewhere pointed out a similar problem with respect to the delivery of program effectiveness information to Parliament in time for critical decision-making.]

Similar Functions for the US Centre for Program Assessment and the Canadian Evaluator General Office

  1. Providing a Broad Perspective: Assessments and reports by a Centre for Program Assessment in the US [like those of an Office of the Evaluator General in Canada] would take a government-wide perspective on policy issues, which may at times diverge from the more narrow, jurisdiction-based focus of individual agencies and Congressional [here Parliamentary] committees.

  2. Using Varied Approaches: The Centre for Program Assessment [like the Office the Evaluator General in Canada] would assess the quality of available information on programs and management performance, support funding of new evaluations and data collections, and generate new evaluations with its own funds where needed.

  3. Exemplifying Competent, Coordinated Evaluation: The Center for Program Assessment [like the Office of the Evaluator General] would be a resource to agency evaluators as they design evaluations and relate their work to that on similar programs in other agencies.

  4. Communicating with the Public: The Center for Program Assessment [like the Office of the Evaluator General] would solicit, interact with, and record public views on programs. It would provide opportunities through electronic communications, public hearings, and the like for public interaction with its analysts.

  5. Speaking Truth to Power: The Center for Program Assessment [like the Evaluator General] would testify before Congress [Parliament, in Canada] and the Administration on its views.

Similarity of Job Descriptions for the Executive Director of the US Centre for Assessment and the Canadian Evaluator General

  1. A thorough appreciation of the need and uses of evaluation data by government and the public

  2. Intimate knowledge of the budget and policy development processes and the opportunities for enhanced use of impact data

  3. The ability to oversee the assessment (and where necessary, the design and execution) of high-quality evaluation

  4. The ability to recruit and manage a staff of policy and evaluation experts

  5. The ability to deal effectively and on a non-partisan basis with officials of government at all levels, and with interest groups across the political spectrum

  6. Knowledge of creative uses of technology to enhance interaction with the public and to publicize and disseminate the products of the Center for Program Assessment [like the Office of the Evaluator General in Canada]

Source: “Linking Resources to Results