When the president stood in front of both houses of Congress last month during the State of the Union and stated plainly, "Let's do what works," many watching at home probably thought it a sensible notion, but that in Washington, there isn't much hope for fast action. This time, however, two senators have already made a very simple -- yet important -- first step by amending the Senate Budget Resolution so that it focuses our government on 'what works,' and puts results first.
And while we hear a lot about the federal budget being out of balance, the amendment offered by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) helps make the budget make more sense. The Wyden-Stabenow amendment calls for the "use of performance data or scientifically rigorous evaluation methodologies for the elimination, consolidation, or reform of Federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives."
In other words, they are saying that agencies should evaluate programs and, when making funding decisions, place emphasis on those programs that can demonstrate results. As Sen. Wyden himself said, "In English what this really means is to focus on stuff that actually works."
Senators Wyden and Stabenow took their cue from the Simpson-Bowles report and their deficit reduction recommendations. Senator Stabenow, in a Committee hearing, said that using evidence to make budget decisions helped make a difference. She said, "I think it would be a great thing to do across the Federal government." Specifically, the Simpson-Bowles plan calls for the Federal government to find ways to "shift from inefficient, unproductive spending to productive results-based investment." Senator Wyden's and Senator Stabenow's colleagues agreed, approving their amendment by voice vote.
Budgets are a set of priorities, and the fact that the Senate is prioritizing decision making based on data and evidence of impact means that on a range of national issues, especially those that impact young people and their families, we could be poised for greater success -- and yes, even some potential budget savings.
The trend of investing in "what works" is growing faster than ever, as nonprofits, foundations, private citizens and government at all levels have taken steps toward making sure an increasing proportion of taxpayer dollars are spent on solutions that get results. The adoption of this amendment by the Senate continues this trend, and moves forward an agenda that can significantly improve outcomes for young people and their families even in the constrained budget reality that our leaders at all levels face today.
While this important step was taken by two Democrats, achieving this goal is not driven by only one party. President George W. Bush prioritized improving the performance of federal programs and encouraged more rigorous evaluations to assess their effectiveness. President Barack Obama has built on this effort by supporting an increasing number of evidence and results-oriented policies and programs. Mayors and governors from both parties in cities and states all over America are also increasingly using data and evidence to steer public dollars to more effectively address needs in their communities and states.
Across the country, we are seeing data-backed proof of improvements in literacy, job training and employment and financial opportunity coaching to name a few. These are improvements that will make a real difference for families in today's economy, and now, with this Senate action, we have a chance to build on these successes.
With all of the discord in Washington, it's all too easy to think that almost nothing gets done -- and that what does happen won't affect us or improve our daily lives. What Senators Wyden and Stabenow did this past week was proof that sometimes even a simple change can make a difference. By prioritizing the use of performance data in the underlying assumptions of the Fiscal Year 2014 Senate Budget Resolution adopted by the Senate this past week, they have put results first and they have taken a good step toward putting young people and their families in this country on a path to greater success.