The PJ Tatler

Obama Signs Order to Make White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team Permanent

President Obama today signed an executive order to deploy psych methods in figuring out ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of federal programs.

“Adopting the insights of behavioral science will help bring our government into the 21st century in a wide range of ways – from delivering services more efficiently and effectively; to accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy; to helping workers find better jobs, gain access to educational opportunity, and lead longer, healthier lives,” Obama said in a statement.

The White House issued a new report from the administration’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Team along with the resulting guidance to federal agencies to make forms easier.

“Behavioral science insights—research insights about how people make decisions—not only identify aspects of programs that can act as barriers to engagement, but also provide policymakers with insight into how those barriers can be removed through commonsense steps, such as simplifying communications and making choices more clear,” the White House said in a lengthy explanation of their federal-form psy-ops.

The executive order “directs federal agencies to identify programs in which applying behavioral science insights can yield substantial improvements; develop strategies for applying behavioral science insights to programs, and, where possible, for rigorously testing and evaluating the impact of these insights; recruit behavioral science experts to join the federal government; and strengthen agency relationships with the research community.”

The order also formally establishes the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST), “a group of experts in applied behavioral science that translates findings and methods from the social and behavioral sciences into improvements in federal policies and programs for the benefit of the American people.”

The first report from that team detailed “substantive reforms to federal programs that serve over one million people.”


They found that “sending eight text-message reminders led to a nearly 9 percent increase in college enrollment among low-income students,” while “a reminder message with clear and concise instructions for how to re-enroll increased servicemember re-enrollments in a workplace savings plan by 22 percent.”

Also: “Highlighting to veterans that they earned an education and career-counseling benefit led nearly 9 percent more veterans to access the application for that benefit,” “sending reminder letters to individuals who had started to apply for health insurance led to 13 percent more completed applications,” and “asking vendors to confirm the accuracy of self-reported sales figures led to an additional $1.59 million in fees collected by the government in a single quarter.”

However, doctors have ignored the behavioral sciences approach: “Sending medical providers a letter illustrating their unusually high drug prescribing rates in comparison with their peers had no measurable impact on prescription rates.”

In the next year, the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team has more than 20 experiments planned, including in retirement savings, higher education, school lunches, and “improving health outcomes.” There will also be renewable energy projects and a partnership with the Census Bureau :to improve the Bureau’s communication and increase engagement with the American Community Survey.”