Evaluation of Policy Effectiveness in Central Government: Follow-up audit
In our report Evaluation of Policy Effectiveness in Central Government of 2012, we concluded that the effectiveness of half the government's expenditure on policy with social objectives in the period 2006-2010 had not been evaluated. We carried out a follow-up audit in 2012 and 2013, in which we also looked at the evaluations of effectiveness that the ministries had carried out in 2011. We further looked at the reasons the ministries gave for not evaluating the effectiveness of certain policies.
Effectiveness of less than half of policy evaluated in 2006-2011
There has been no change in the general picture that emerged from our initial audit. The effectiveness of slightly less than half of the policies funded by central government was not evaluated in the past six years. We also found that there may be good reasons why the ministries had not evaluated policy effectiveness. At the same time, however, there is a risk that ministries are using these reasons too readily to justify their not evaluating policy effectiveness. Opportunities are therefore being missed to apply the potential lessons learned in the formulation of new policy. It is important that the government has information on the effectiveness of policy in as many areas as possible. Public money will then not be invested in policy that does not work effectively, if at all, and schemes that are effective will not be cut.
Spending cuts highlight importance of good evaluations of effectiveness
We believe spending cuts and reforms should be implemented in a responsible manner based on reasoned choices. To this end, the government must have the relevant information it needs to determine the impact of spending cuts – not only budgetary information but also social information. At present, the impacts cannot always be determined because effectiveness is not evaluated in many policy fields, including those fields in which the Rutte/Asscher government is cutting expenditure. The objective need not be to evaluate the effectiveness of all policy at all times, but every ministry should have a reasoned evaluation programme laying down what kinds of evaluation should be carried out when and what kinds have the most added value.
Information on effectiveness should be periodically published
The government announced in March 2011 that all policy would be periodically evaluated by means of policy scans. This is a significant step towards the periodic publication of the information. A policy scan includes an evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of policy. To base policy scans on relevant information on policy effectiveness, regular evaluations are necessary in all policy areas. A continuous supply of information in the form of digital open data would offer the House of Representatives and the public better opportunities to keep abreast of developments in the various policy fields, of the use of funds and of the outputs and results achieved.
We made the following four recommendations to the government:
- Keep the overview of evaluations carried out and reasons for not evaluating effectiveness provided in the report up to date and periodically inform the House of Representatives of compliance with the obligation to carry out evaluations pursuant to the Government Accounts Act.
- Improve the supply of digital information on the results of policy.
- Explain any departures from the provisions of the Government Accounts Act to the House of Representatives.
- Report the results of reliable third-party evaluations of effectiveness to the House of Representatives.
Response of the government
The government agrees with our recommendation that the House of Representatives should be informed of compliance with the evaluation requirements laid down in the Government Accounts Act. It thinks it can do so within the new structure of budgets and annual reports as they will give a complete view of planned and completed evaluations as from 2013. Furthermore, it was recently agreed that policy scans would produce an overview of the evaluations carried out. The government notes that in response to our 2012 report, Evaluation of Policy Effectiveness in Central Government, the Periodic Evaluation Regulation (RPE) had laid down that policy scans are the most appropriate instrument to explain what parts of policy have not been evaluated as to their effectiveness and why not. The government recognises that it is technically possible to publish the available information on the effectiveness of policy. In its opinion, this can be achieved by means of the Evaluation and Audit Framework introduced in the Accountable Budget programme.