On September 15, 2015, President Obama issued Executive Order 13707, “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People." The Order directs Federal Government agencies to apply behavioral science insights – research insights about how people make decisions and act on them – to the design of their policies and programs. The Order also charges the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST), a cross-agency group of applied behavioral scientists, program officials, and policymakers, with providing policy guidance and advice to Federal agencies in pursuit of this directive.
This second annual report highlights SBST’s progress in supporting the President’s directive over the past year. SBST’s work tracks three major themes:
- Addressing some of the most important policy challenges facing the Nation, such as ensuring access to affordable health insurance for the millions of Americans who still lack coverage, expanding economic opportunity for workers and their families, and reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to help protect Earth’s climate.
- Leveraging an ever broader set of strategies to maximize impact, from changing how programs communicate with individuals, to modifying the way programs are administered, to informing the design of policy. For example, SBST’s early efforts to promote military service member enrollment in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), the Federal Government’s workplace savings plan, began with sending informational messages to service members designed using behavioral science insights. And most recently, SBST advised the Department of Defense on the implementation of a policy change that will automatically enroll service members into TSP starting in 2018.
- Drawing on the best available evidence and rigorously testing the impact of its projects to inform recommendations about what to scale and what to improve. In this spirit, SBST reports the results of all completed projects, including projects that did not yield statistically significant improvements.
The report that follows presents the results of completed projects and describes ongoing efforts in eight key policy areas: promoting retirement security, advancing economic opportunity, improving college access and affordability, responding to climate change, supporting criminal justice reform, assisting job seekers, helping families get health coverage and stay healthy, and improving the effectiveness and efficiency of Federal Government operations. The following summary highlights key efforts in each area. The results of completed projects continue to demonstrate the power of applying behavioral science insights to policy, and the works in progress provide a sense of future promise.
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