NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Evaluating Federal Social Programs

July 29, 2011

Federal social programs are rarely evaluated to determine whether they are actually accomplishing their intended purposes.  Congress can take several steps to ensure that federal social programs are properly assessed using experimental evaluations, says David Muhlhausen, a research fellow in empirical policy analysis at the Heritage Foundation.

  • Step one: When authorizing a new program or reauthorizing an existing program, Congress should specifically mandate experimental evaluation of the program.
  • Step two: The experimental evaluations should be large-scale, multisite studies.
  • Step three: Congress should specify the types of outcome measures to be used to assess effectiveness.
  • Step four: Congress should institute procedures that encourage government agencies to carry out congressionally mandated evaluations, despite any entrenched biases against experimental evaluations.
  • Step five: Congress should require that congressionally mandated evaluations be submitted to the relevant congressional committees in a timely manner after completion.

With the federal debt reaching staggering heights, Congress needs to ensure that it is spending taxpayer dollars wisely.  Multisite experimental evaluations are the best method for assessing the effectiveness of federal social programs.  Yet to date, this method has been used on only a handful of federal social programs.  Congress needs to reverse this trend, says Muhlhausen.

Source: David Muhlhausen, "Evaluating Federal Social Programs: Finding Out What Works and What Does Not," Heritage Foundation, July 18, 2011.

For text:


Browse more articles on Government Issues