Some vendors who provide federal agencies with goods and services as varied as paper clips and translators were given a slightly different version of the form used to report rebates they owe the government.

The only difference: The signature box was at the beginning of the form rather than the end. The result: a rash of honesty. Companies using the new form acknowledged they owed an extra $1.59 million in rebates during the three-month experiment, apparently because promising to be truthful at the outset actually caused them to answer more truthfully.

The altered form is among the early successes of a year-old effort by the Obama administration to apply academic research on human behavior to the business of running a government. The idea is that a little science might help the government collect taxes, distribute benefit payments and even help people find jobs, get an education or save for retirement.