National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts

The Obama Administration’s Evidence-Based Social Policy Initiatives: An Overview

Summary
This paper outlines the Obama administration’s plan to strengthen the evidence base for U.S. social policy.

The Obama administration has created the most expansive opportunity for rigorous evidence to influence social policy in the history of the U.S. government. No president or budget director for a president have ever been so intent on using evidence to shape decisions about the funding of social programs as President Obama and former Budget Director Orszag. The Obama plan to create evidence-based social policy initiatives turns the normal relationship between policy decision making and use of social science evidence on its head. Instead of evidence being on the outside of the decision making process trying to get in, Obama brings evidence inside from the beginning. The administration must still convince others that the use of evidence will improve policymaking and program outcomes, but the argument that evidence deserves a prime role in policymaking is being made by people inside the administration and they are arguing to retain an evidence-based approach as a fundamental part of the president’s legislative agenda, rather than fighting from the outside to insert evidence-based policies into the decision making process. Although less emphasized, the Obama plan for basing program decisions on rigorous evidence can be useful for cutting spending as well as funding new programs.

To read the full report please visit the National Endowment for Education, Technology and the Arts.