Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence


Administration for Children and Families (HHS)

Administration for Community Living (HHS)

U.S. Agency for International Development


U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development

U.S. Department of Labor

Millennium Challenge Corporation

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (HHS)
Total Score
(100 points possible)
Leadership(9 points possible)

Did the agency have senior staff members with the authority, staff, and budget to build and use evidence to inform the agency’s major policy and program decisions in FY20?

Research and Evaluation(10 points possible)

Did the agency have an evaluation policy, evaluation plan, and learning agenda (evidence-building plan), and did it publicly release the findings of all completed program evaluations in FY20?

Resources**(10 points possible)

Did the agency invest at least 1% of program funds in evaluations in FY20? (Examples: Impact studies; implementation studies; rapid cycle evaluations; evaluation technical assistance, rigorous evaluations, including random assignments)

Performance Management / Continuous Improvement(10 points possible)

Did the agency implement a performance management system with outcome-focused goals and aligned program objectives and measures, and did it frequently collect, analyze, and use data and evidence to improve outcomes, return on investment, and other dimensions of performance in FY20? (Example: Performance stat systems, frequent outcomes-focused data-informed meetings)

Data(10 points possible)

Did the agency collect, analyze, share, and use high-quality administrative and survey data - consistent with strong privacy protections - to improve (or help other entities improve) outcomes, cost-effectiveness, and/or the performance of federal, state, local, and other service providers programs in FY20? (Examples: Model data-sharing agreements or data-licensing agreements; data tagging and documentation; data standardization; open data policies; data-use policies)

Common Evidence Standards / What Works Designations(10 points possible)

Did the agency use a common evidence framework, guidelines, or standards to inform its research and funding purposes; did that framework prioritize rigorous research and evaluation methods; and did the agency disseminate and promote the use of evidence-based interventions through a user-friendly tool in FY20? (Example: What Works Clearinghouses)

Innovation(7 points possible)

Did the agency have staff, policies, and processes in place that encouraged innovation to improve the impact of its programs in FY20? (Examples: Prizes and challenges; behavioral science trials; innovation labs/accelerators; performance partnership pilots; demonstration projects or waivers with rigorous evaluation requirements)

Use of Evidence in Competitive Grant Programs**(15 points possible)

Did the agency use evidence of effectiveness when allocating funds from its competitive grant programs in FY20? (Examples: Tiered-evidence frameworks; evidence-based funding set-asides; priority preference points or other preference scoring for evidence; Pay for Success provisions)

Use of Evidence Non-Competitive Grant Programs**(10 points possible)

Did the agency use evidence of effectiveness when allocating funds from its non-competitive grant programs in FY20? (Examples: Evidence-based funding set-asides; requirements to invest funds in evidence-based activities; Pay for Success provisions)

Repurpose for Results(8 points possible)

In FY20, did the agency shift funds away from or within any practice, policy, or program that consistently failed to achieve desired outcomes? (Examples: Requiring low-performing grantees to re-compete for funding; removing ineffective interventions from allowable use of grant funds; incentivizing or urging grant applicants to stop using ineffective practices in funding announcements; proposing the elimination of ineffective programs through annual budget requests; incentivizing well-designed trials to fill specific knowledge gaps; supporting low-performing grantees through mentoring, improvement plans, and other forms of assistance; using rigorous evaluation results to shift funds away from a program)

About the Results for America 2020 Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence

Results for America’s 2020 Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence (Federal Standard of Excellence) highlights how nine federal agencies, which oversee more than $220 billion in federal investments annually, are building the infrastructure necessary to use evidence and data in their budget, policy, and management decisions.

The Federal Standard of Excellence is an annual assessment of these federal agencies’ evidence-based and data-driven policymaking efforts. The Federal Standard of Excellence highlights the significant progress these nine federal agencies have made to operate effectively and efficiently in order to deliver better results for young people, their families, and communities. 

In particular, the Federal Standard of Excellence assesses agencies’ early efforts to implement the requirements of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act), which took effect in early 2019. The Federal Standard of Excellence found that these agencies represent a model that all federal agencies can follow as they work to implement the Evidence Act. Exemplary practices at these agencies include the following: 

For more details about the Federal Standard of Excellence, please download the full document and read the 2020 Federal Standard of Excellence Agency Snapshots, which summarize the most notable achievement at each agency.

In 2020, Results for America and the committed federal civil servants at nine federal agencies developed the 2020 Federal Standard of Excellence. Results for America would like to thank its Federal Standard of Excellence Advisory Committee and participating federal agencies for their work to improve lives by investing taxpayer dollars in what works: the Administration for Children and Families (within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS); Administration for Community Living (within HHS); U.S. Agency for International Development; Corporation for National and Community Service; U.S. Department of Education; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; U.S. Department of Labor; Millennium Challenge Corporation; and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (within HHS). 

When reviewing the information and scores in the 2020 Federal Standard of Excellence, it is important to note that:

  • Results for America developed the standard’s criteria and scoring structure in close consultation with more than 100 current and former federal government officials and key stakeholders from all across the country.
  • The purpose of the standard is to educate members of the general public as well as public, private, and nonprofit sector leaders on how federal departments and agencies are currently using evidence, data, and evaluation to invest taxpayer dollars in what works.
  • Results for America gave the federal departments and agencies included in the standard multiple opportunities to review and comment on the content and presentation of the information included in it. Results for America greatly appreciates their willingness to help develop this standard and their continued commitment to making the federal government as effective and efficient as possible. Since Results for America recognizes that it is very difficult to distill complex practices, policies, and programs into a single cross-agency scorecard, Results for America exercised its best judgment and relied on the deep expertise of leaders both within and outside of the federal government during the development of the standard.
  • Results for America released eight previous versions of the Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence, formerly entitled as the Invest in What Works Index, in June 2013, September 2013, May 2014, March 2015, April 2016, October 2017, November 2018, and October 2019.


** Meeting this criteria requires both federal agency and congressional action.

¹ RFA gave SAMHSA several opportunities to review and edit the information in this document, but it declined to do so. Therefore, the SAMHSA portion of the 2020 Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence includes information previously supplied by SAMHSA as well as additional information from the SAMHSA website.

²USAID and MCC only administered competitive grant programs in FY20. Therefore, for both agencies, Results for America applied scored criteria #9 by applying their relevant score from criteria #8.