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2014 Rossi Award Winner

Larry L. Orr

We are delighted to announce that Larry Orr of Johns Hopkins University has been selected to receive the 2014 Peter H. Rossi Award for Contributions to the Theory or Practice of Program Evaluation. (To read his acceptance remarks, please click here.)

Dr. Larry L. Orr teaches the Program Evaluation course in the Institute for Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins University and works as an independent consultant on the design and analysis of evaluations of public programs. He currently serves as Evaluation Specialist on an evaluation of results-based aid in the education sector in Ethiopia, for the U. K. Department for International Development, and as co-principal investigator for a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Over the last 40 years, Larry Orr has made notable contributions to the field of evaluation, not just in their number, but also in conceptualization, implementation, and design and analysis. At the same time he has helped other researchers to understand and conduct high quality work of their own. He has done so as an academic, civil servant, research firm employee, and consultant.

Dr. Orr earned a Bachelors degree at Iowa State University and a Ph.D. in economics at MIT. In 1969, as an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin, he co-directed a project for the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) that produced a set of papers (ultimately, a book, Income Maintenance: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Research, co-edited with Rob Hollister and Myron Lefcowitz) that provided the basic framework for the HEW income maintenance experiments. In the fall of that year, he went on a leave of absence to work at the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the beginning of thirteen years of public service in the federal government.

In the first several years, while on detail to HEW, he helped to design the Gary and Seattle income maintenance experiments, and worked as staff to the Deputy Under Secretary for Policy on the Nixon administration�s national health insurance plan.

Back at OEO following this detail, Dr. Orr convinced his superiors to fund a randomized experiment to test a fundamental question regarding health insurance: how sensitive is the use of medical care to the proportion of the cost borne by the consumer? On his recommendation, a grant was awarded to RAND; he worked closely with RAND staff to design what would become the Health Insurance Experiment. Over substantial opposition from the HEW health establishment, who saw the study as taking resources away from more traditional research, Dr. Orr grew and nurtured the 10-year project to fruition in 1982.

Few, if any, evaluations have had greater and more lasting influence on the policy debate than the Health Insurance Experiment—as evidenced by many features of previous health care reform proposals and in the income—conditioned coinsurance provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Even more concretely, the findings may have had direct effects on the nature of health insurance: �The fraction of major companies with cost-sharing insurance plans rose from 30% to 63% in the years immediately following the publication of the experimental results. Within a decade of the experiment, the resulting cost savings on the consequent avoided medical expenses was about $7 billion.�

In 1974, with the demise of OEO, Dr. Orr was transferred, along with the Health Insurance Experiment, to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) at HEW, where he struggled successfully against those who attempted to terminate the experiment. He became the first director of the Office of Research in the Office of Income Security Policy in ASPE. In this role from 1974 to 1980, his accomplishments included managing the four income maintenance experiments to completion (not a forgone conclusion). During this period he also made a number of very important contributions in augmenting the capacity within government to carry out high quality evaluation. He recruited highly talented individuals to the Office, which created an important evaluation role for ASPE which has continued to the present.

Dr. Orr became one of the strongest voices in government for promoting randomized trials, including initiating the Dayton wage voucher experiment and the monthly reporting experiments in Illinois and Massachusetts, as well as helping HUD to design the Housing Allowance Experiments.

After establishing a research office in the Office of the Secretary of Department of Labor, Dr. Orr left government for a twenty-five year career at Abt Associates, where he rose to become its Chief Economist. At Abt Associates, he provided leadership to numerous evaluations, many of which were randomized trials. Two of the most significant projects he led were the AFDC Homemaker-Home Health Aide Demonstrations, a seven-state test of training for AFDC recipients to provide home care to aged and/or disabled clients, and the National Evaluation of Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) programs. A unique aspect of the Homemaker-Home Health Aide project was that it was two experiments in one�both AFDC recipients and potential clients were randomly assigned to treatment or control groups and the two sides of the demonstration were analyzed separately.

He was the Project Director for design and analysis of the National JTPA Study, a large (N=20,000), 16-site experimental evaluation of the nation�s then largest program providing employment and training services to disadvantaged populations, which was one of the first to use random assignment to evaluate an ongoing national program. The JTPA study had two major conclusions: (1) that the adult program components were cost-effective, and (2) that the youth programs had no discernible positive effects, and for some youths (those with arrest records) might have had a negative effect. When the study findings were released in 1994, Congress cut the youth program by 90 percent, but maintained funding for the adult programs�presumably in response to the study findings. (Another important evaluation in which he played a lead role was the Food Stamp Employment and Training Program Evaluation, the first randomized evaluation with a nationally representative sample.)

In the 1990s, Dr. Orr authored, or co-authored, two books while on leave from Abt. Under a joint appointment at the Brookings Institution and ASPE, he wrote Social Experiments: Evaluating Public Programs with Experimental Methods, one of the finest textbooks on evaluating programs with random assignment. Its combination of technical precision and clarity of explanation make it an ideal introduction to designing and implementing experiments, as well as a reference of great value even to old hands at the business. Howard Bloom said of it: �Even though much of its material is technical, it reads like a novel.� Dr. Orr�s writing such a textbook attests to his commitment to increasing the capacity to conduct rigorous evaluation. He also co-authored (with Stephen Bell, John Bloomquist and Glen Cain) Program Applicants as a Comparison Group in Evaluating Training Programs, an empirical test of a non-experimental method using an experimental benchmark.

At Abt Associates, Dr. Orr served as a model and mentor to both peers and numerous less experienced researchers. More formally, he served as an Abt Associates Fellow, a group of senior Abt Associates researchers who assess and enhance the quality of the Company�s work. The Fellows, whom he led for several years, are instrumental in building the skills and expertise of other Abt Associates researchers.

After retiring from Abt, acting as an independent consultant, Dr. Orr has focused much of his attention on education, serving on Technical Working Groups for several Institute for Education Science (IES) projects in the Department of Education, making presentations on evaluation methods at Regional Education Laboratory meetings, participating in the IES Methods Working Group, and (with Rob Hollister and Rebecca Maynard), and conducting a review of the first five years of IES research.

Dr. Orr currently serves as evaluation expert on an evaluation of aid to education in Ethiopia and as co-Investigator of a study to improve evaluation methodology for STEM education programs, under a grant from NSF.

Since 2010, Dr. Orr has taught the core course on program evaluation in the public policy program of the Institute for Health and Social Policy in the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

The Rossi award will be given at APPAM�s Annual Research Conference, on Thursday, November 6, 4:30-6 p.m. The program for the presentation follows:

The Peter H. Rossi Award Symposium
Thursday, November 6, 4:30-6 p.m.
Moderator: Douglas J. Besharov, University of Maryland
Awardee and speaker: Larry L. Orr, Johns Hopkins University
Commentators: Judith M. Gueron, MDRC; Rebecca A. Maynard, University of Pennsylvania

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