Toward a More Public Discussion of the Ethics of Federal Social Program Evaluation
Federal social program evaluation has blossomed over the past quarter century. Despite this growth, there has been little accompanying public debate on research ethics. This essay explores the origins and the implications of this relative silence on ethical matters. It reviews the federal regulations that generally govern research ethics, and recounts the history whereby the evaluation of federal programs was specifically exempted from the purview of those regulations. Through a discussion of a recent evaluation that raised ethical concerns, the essay poses - but does not answer - three questions: (1) Are there good reasons to hold federal social program evaluations to different standards than those that apply to other research?; (2) If so, what ethical standards should be used to access such evaluations?; and (3) Should a formal mechanism be developed to ensure that federal social program evaluations are conducted ethically?