White House Looks To Moneyball-Style Analytics

Obama administration official presses federal agencies to use data analytics as a cost-cutting tool.
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Data analytics is playing a central role in the White House's new approach to doing more with less money, a tactic an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) official is calling a "Moneyball" approach to finding ways to prioritize investments.

"Moneyball", first a book and now a film, outlines how Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane used analytics to do more with less money and compete successfully against the deeper pockets of the New York Yankees and other big-city baseball franchises.

The Obama administration aims to do the same to meet the goals of President Obama's Campaign to Cut Waste, which calls for federal agencies to root out and try to eliminate areas in which they are wasting money and prioritize what they invest in, said Shelley Metzenbaum, OMB's associate director of performance and personnel management, in White House blog post.

To do this, agencies must constantly look "at relevant data to identify factors most critical to progress and those most likely to cause problems and increase costs," she said.

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Several agencies have used this approach to align investments with smarter spending, according to Metzenbaum.

The Department of Transportation has used analytics to identify a priority initiative. By looking at data, the department found that distracted driving was a factor in 20% of motor vehicle accidents that resulted in injury and 5,500 deaths in 2009. This data point led the department to create a campaign to promote strategies for reducing distracted driving and help parents, states, local governments, and other constituents better understand the problem, according to Metzenbaum.

The Social Security Administration, too, leveraged analytics by running predictive scenarios and models to identify how different criteria will affect the error rate, cost, and time it takes them to process decisions for who receives disability payments, Metzenbaum said. This will allow them to make decisions more quickly and accurately, she said.

The Department of Health and Human Services, too, has found value in a Moneyball-style approach to ensure the money it's spending on home health care is not going to waste. The department recently unveiled $224 million in grants to states to provide evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs that it believes will yield better results, which also means savings to federal, state, and local governments, Metzenbaum said.

A law requiring agencies to run quarterly reviews on their priorities based on data analysis also will come into play as agencies aim to identify areas of waste. In January, President Obama signed into law the Government Performance and Results Act of 2010, which requires agencies to use performance data to improve outcomes rather than merely reviews them based on actual performance, according to Metzenbaum.

President Obama unveiled the Campaign to Cut Waste in June with a strong IT component. As part of the plan, federal agencies must shut down half of existing websites by the middle of next year. It also called for a freeze on the creation of new websites, which the OMB later extended to the end of the year.

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