Performance Improvement 2008. Introduction


What This Report Is About

This Performance Improvement series of reports takes its name from the primary goal of carrying out evaluations – to improve the performance of programs meant to serve the greatest needs of the community. Performance Improvement 2008, the latest of these reports, makes available the most recently completed evaluations of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), those completed between September 30, 2006 and October 1, 2007.

Managing a Big Department

HHS administers over 330 programs (see all the programs listed in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance, The HHS budget included $657 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2007, the period covered by this report. Of this amount, Congress directed more than $800 million for evaluation and related activities through the set-aside provision of the Public Health Service Act (Section 241) which allows the Secretary of HHS to use a portion of the amounts appropriated for programs authorized under the Act for the evaluation, directly, or by grants and contracts, of the implementation and effectiveness of these programs[1] . Additionally, Congress annually appropriates significant other funds for both directed and discretionary evaluations. Since these make up part of the essential evaluation activities of the Department, they too are reported here.

Why We Evaluate

Successful programs rely on effective evaluations. Thoughtful program evaluations can improve the delivery of public services and ensure that programs are efficient, targeted to their intended clients, and well managed. Important questions addressed by program evaluations include: what are the circumstances in which programs exist, who are the people that need services, and which program activities work best? The initial needs that give rise to programs, the knowledge base on which they are constructed, and the environment in which they operate, are not static. Actions by many individuals and demographic, economic, political, and social conditions are in flux. Legislators, policy makers, and managers must stay abreast of change. Congress and the Executive branch are responsible for the design, modification and implementation of laws and rules governing programs and both branches of government need the results of ongoing research, evaluation, and policy studies to effectively monitor and appropriately modify programs.

Funding Evaluations

Under the Public Health Service Act provision, annually about 2.4 percent of funds appropriated under the Act are used both to conduct evaluations and to fund other activities identified by Congress. The Public Health Service Act requires that the Secretary report annually, to the Senate Health, Labor and Pensions Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the findings of evaluations conducted under these provisions. As a courtesy to Congress, though not required by the Public Health Service Act, evaluations funded pursuant to other yearly administrative appropriations and statutory administrative authority are also included. This report, the 14th in this series, provides summaries of recently completed studies funded with both set-aside as well as other program evaluation funds.

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