White House To Integrate Behavioral Sciences Into Government Programs

| by Ethan Brown
The White House.The White House.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Tuesday directing federal offices and agencies to integrate social and behavioral science methods into their day-to-day work habits and practices, giving government employees a “nudge” to make their jobs easier, make citizens’ lives easier, and make government more efficient.

The order, signed Sept. 15, builds on earlier foundations that the Obama administration has used to guide certain policy decisions since the president took office in January 2009, USA Today reports. For example, the White House created a Social and Behavioral Sciences Team last year to find ways to improve government services by re-framing choices for individuals.

In one case, federal officials sent a series of eight text messages to low-income high school seniors who were looking at different locations to begin their college careers. The texts were reminders of application deadlines, financial aid requirements and other facts to help better prepare the students for their freshman year. College enrollment among those low-income individuals increased by 9 percent with the text "nudges," USA Today noted.

In another case, the program asked soldiers if they wanted to sign up for a workplace saving program during orientation on a new base. The result was an increase in signup rates by 8.7 percent, or three times more than on other bases that did not advertise the saving program.

According to a statement from the White House, the latest executive order will “identify policies, programs, and operations where applying behavioral science insights may yield substantial improvements in public welfare, program outcomes and program cost effectiveness.”

John Holdren, the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, stressed the benefits during a presentation in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Sept. 15.

The order’s goal is to “harness behavioral science insights to improve programs and better serve the nation while saving taxpayer dollars,” he said.

The “nudge” method was first created by former Obama staffer Cass Sunstein, who used the term to describe a way that government can re-frame an issue or topic for better understanding to Americans. He left the White House after the 2012 elections, but was present for the announcement on Sept. 15, Politico noted.

Sources: Politico, USA Today

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