Federal Manager's Daily Report

Federal agencies could expand their use of behavioral insights to improve their delivery of services and operate more efficiently, says a report from the Partnership for Public Service based on a series of roundtable discussions on the topic.

Private sector companies make wide use of insights in ways including placement of items in stores and offers of incentives, it says, and some federal agencies have done the same.

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“Requiring people to opt out of a program rather than opt in is another way to make it easy to act in desirable ways. It is what is known as changing the default,” it said, noting that the TSP increased participation by changing from an opt-in to an opt-out system for newly hired federal employees.

“Providing reminders is an inexpensive and effective way to help people keep track of deadlines and encourage them to act because, while people may intend to do something, busy lives can make it easy to forget,” it added, citing an increase in responses to notices from the SSA requiring that supplemental security income recipients verify their eligibility. Reminders also have been effective in encouraging more veterans to get flu shots, and increasing the number of unemployed individuals who enroll in job training classes, it said.

Further, “If lower than expected participation is due to a confusing enrollment form, the problem is ripe for a behavioral solution,” it said. It gave as an example the Agriculture Department simplifying instructions for enrollees in a school lunch program to verify their eligibility after research showed that many did not respond because the instructions were confusing.

It said CMS similarly used information it held to modify behavior in a different way. It identified the 5 percent of medical providers who issued the most prescriptions for a drug and sent half a letter informing them that their rates were above those of their peers and sent the other half a control letter on a different topic. Nine months later, the rate of prescriptions in the former group dropped by 11 percent “with no adverse effects on patient health,” it said.

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