Department of State Program Evaluation Policy
This evaluation policy provides the framework for implementing evaluations of the Department’s many programs, projects, and activities carried out by its various bureaus and missions. The policy supports the Department’s goal of connecting evaluation, an essential function of effective performance management, to its investments in diplomacy and development to ensure they align with the agency’s overarching strategic goals and objectives. The Department has long recognized that evaluation is essential to its ability to document program impact, identify best practices, help assess return on investment, provide inputs for policy and planning decisions, and assure performance and accountability for the American people. Program evaluation encompasses the tools used for setting forth clearly defined priorities, identifying the means for achieving them, articulating the metrics and performance measures that will be used to assess outcomes, and assessing and sharing results. Further, evaluations contribute to better justification of programs in budget requests for funding Department programs and projects.
With passage of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993, Congress strengthened the mandate to evaluate programs and required agencies to include a discussion of program evaluations in their annual strategic plans and performance reports. For its part, OMB has emphasized program evaluation, for example, by compelling agencies to link evaluation plans with the next budget cycle. The Department has made significant progress toward fulfilling these mandates. Implementation of a strong policy and coordinated plan for conducting program evaluations will only strengthen the Department’s capacity and commitment for improved program management.
Evaluations are encouraged for programs and projects at all funding levels. All grant- and contract-funded programs/projects that strive to achieve a strategic goal or major priority shall be evaluated at least once during their lifetime. Evaluation of contractor performance is required by Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR 42.15) that includes having the contractor conform to contract requirements, standards of good workmanship, forecasting and controlling costs, adherence to schedule, and reasonable and cooperative behavior. Evaluation of grants is required by 22 CFR PART 135.40, 22 CFR 145.51, and by grant terms and conditions.
Each bureau of the Department will develop an annual Bureau Evaluation Plan to include:
a) a list of projects and programs -- and the strategic goal(s) that the projects and programs support -- that are subject to this policy requirement;
b) a status report on current evaluation efforts and resources and on recently completed evaluations;
c) a plan for conducting new evaluations; and
d) a discussion of proposed use and dissemination.
Bureau Evaluation Plans need to encompass new programs and major policy initiatives -- such as cross-cutting, collaborative efforts -- as well as existing programs and projects. Development of a Bureau Evaluation Plan will be coordinated and linked with existing deliverables in the strategic planning process.
Each Bureau Evaluation Plan will be reviewed by a working group under the guidance of the agency Performance Improvement Officer. Staff in the Bureau of Resource Management (RM) and from the Office of Foreign Assistance (F) will be available to assist bureaus, particularly those without monitoring and evaluation capacity or experience, on technical evaluation issues. Findings should shape strategies and inform program decisions. Schedules of future evaluations will be included in the agency strategic plan and summaries of completed evaluations will be reported in the annual program performance report.
Evaluations will be categorized as either internal or independent. Internal evaluations are performed at the direction of bureau/office management which plays an important role in performance management and program oversight. Independent evaluations should be free from interference from the bureau/office or operating unit that commissions them. Federal program management standards require independent evaluations, with final results not subject to approval by program managers. Such evaluations may be conducted by external experts, by another bureau or operating unit which is separate from the one that manages the program, or by partner organizations.
Program managers, fully cognizant of Department and bureau funding constraints, nevertheless should identify resources for evaluation activities as part of contract and grant planning. The cost of an evaluation will vary by program, and no set amount is prescribed, although industry averages suggest that 3-5% of the program cost is a reasonable baseline. For new investments, evaluation costs shall be specifically identifiable in the request for new resources. Under the Department’s grant and contract regulations, performance monitoring and evaluation are allowable costs in most cases.
Bureaus and Missions must maintain an official copy of completed evaluations, and must transmit finished reports to the Bureau of Resource Management as archival messages via the State Messaging and Archive Retrieval System (SMART). In this way evaluations can be collected into a central repository. Classified evaluations must be marked with appropriate classification markings. In keeping with the spirit of transparency, bureaus and posts are encouraged to post copies of their evaluation reports and results on OpenNet (Department Intranet) or ClassNet website homepages to facilitate learning within the agency and other interested USG agencies which have authorized access.