Program Evaluation Section

The Program Evaluation staff of LSO conduct in-depth research about the effectiveness and efficiency of state government programs. The Legislature’s Management Audit Committee (MAC) selects program evaluation topics and provides direction to the program evaluation staff. Program evaluation reports provide information about programs that utilize public funds. Although Program Evaluation Section staff are not available to conduct general research for individual legislators, the reports themselves are an important resource for legislators. Our evaluation reports provide a great deal of background information and research about a variety of state government programs and issues to help inform legislative decisionmaking. The sections below address many common questions about the program evaluation process.

What is Program Evaluation?

The goal of program evaluation is to provide the Legislature with useful, objective, and timely information about the extent to which desired program results are being achieved. Program evaluation is a response to legislators’ demands for thorough analyses of program performance and serves the Legislature by providing legislative oversight of programs. Program evaluations are designed to improve government operations and services. What makes program evaluation unique compared to other types of research is that it allows an independent, in-depth look at an issue or program to identify problems, the causes of those problems, and potential solutions to those problems.

Evaluation reports are based on objective research that take into account a wide range of data and points of view. Our research culminates in written evaluation reports about the effectiveness and efficiency of programs authorized by the Legislature. When we conduct an evaluation, we systematically review the selected program to determine: whether the program is achieving intended results, as authorized by the Legislature; whether the program is implemented and funds are spent according to legislative intent; whether there is duplication or overlap of administration or services; whether there are more efficient and cost-effective ways of reaching program goals; and whether the Legislature should consider certain issues when making policy and budget decisions about the program.

How are Topics Selected?

Suggestions for evaluation topics come from a variety of sources, including Management Audit Committee members, other legislative committees, individual legislators, and LSO staff. However, the Committee makes the final determination as to which programs staff will evaluate. When selecting evaluations, the Committee looks for topics that are important and timely, over which the state has some control, where there is evidence of program deficiencies and potential for improvement.

How do we Assure that Evaluations are Objective?

We follow statutory guidelines when we conduct research, analyze data, and write reports. The research, analysis, and writing are done independently, without Committee involvement, and under statutory provisions for confidentiality. Although the Committee assigns topics and may identify the scope of evaluations, members do not direct or shape the course the evaluation takes. Once the Management Audit Committee assigns a topic to LSO program evaluation staff, we conduct the research, analysis, and report writing without Committee input. We also follow governmental auditing standards in conducting our work, which require that we obtain sufficient, competent, and relevant evidence as a basis for our findings and conclusions. Because we are generalists, we necessarily begin evaluation work without convictions about possible problems or solutions in any program, which is one of the key ways we maintain neutrality. To further neutralize the possibility of individual biases among staff and to bring balance to the process, we conduct our evaluations in teams. Finally, the reports themselves ensure balance by including a written response from the agency.

Why do you Keep Some Information Confidential?

Statutes give us unrestricted access to staff, sensitive documents and other information maintained by state agencies. Statutes also require that we keep all information confidential until a report is formally released. The report includes aggregate information that does not identify individuals or the specifics of sensitive information. The draft report remains confidential until the Management Audit Committee has met with the affected agency to discuss its contents. Once the Committee is satisfied the report is fair and accurate, it votes to release the report, which then becomes a public document. Even after a report is released, the information we use to prepare the report is still confidential by law. This assurance of confidentiality is important, because agency officials can feel comfortable discussing sensitive program issues with us knowing that we are legally required to keep that information confidential. The statutory requirements for confidentiality also allow us access to a broad range of sensitive documents that may otherwise be difficult to obtain.

Do the Reports Include Recommendations?

Our research usually looks at the results of programs, so it is primarily a retrospective, rather than prospective endeavor. However, because program evaluations focus on problem solving, we also provide prospective options for change. Our reports may make recommendations both to the Legislature and to the executive branch. Rather than recommending a single course of action, we often outline a series of options to administratively and legislatively correct problems. This is particularly true when policy questions are involved. Neither Committee members nor LSO staff have authority to compel compliance with the recommendations. Agencies often choose to implement recommendations voluntarily or the Committee may choose to sponsor legislation related to the report’s findings and recommendations.

How Can These Reports Help Me?

There is a growing clamor for governmental accountability: taxpayers, legislators, and other public officials want to know whether government is properly handling its funds and is complying with the law. Equally important, legislators and the public want assurance that government programs are achieving the purposes for which they were authorized, and are operating economically and efficiently. The maroon-covered program evaluation reports are a source of concentrated information about selected programs. Our reports contain analytical material of a sort that is not provided by other sources. The reports include: historical background, budget information, an assessment of problem areas, and recommendations for change. A list of evaluations that have been completed on different topics are listed on the Wyoming Legislature’s website under the Program Evaluation link