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House and Senate Release Bipartisan Evidence-Based Policymaking Bill

On November 1, members of the House and Senate introduced the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, the “down-payment” legislation that would enact some of the less complicated (and less controversial) recommendations of the report from the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (see COSSA’s coverage and statement). The bill was introduced in the House by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) as H.R. 4174 and cosponsored by Representatives Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Trey Gowdy (R-SC), and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and in the Senate by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) as S. 2046 and cosponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform unanimously approved the House version of the bill on November 2, and the bill is scheduled for consideration by the full chamber on Wednesday, November 15. While the Senate Committee with jurisdiction over the bill (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs) has not yet scheduled a markup of the Senate’s bill, Speaker Ryan is reportedly keen to see the legislation enacted by the end of the year, so the bill in the Senate could be attached to “must-pass” legislation, like an appropriations bill. COSSA has joined more than 100 organizations and leaders in a letter in support of the bill. Speaker Ryan and Sen. Murray had also pledged to introduce additional legislation to implement some of the more complex recommendations of the Commission, perhaps next year, although that likely depends on the success of the bill introduced this month.

The bill makes progress towards implementing 13 of the Commission’s recommendations, across the three major themes of the Commission’s report: strengthening privacy protections, improving access to data, and enhancing the government’s evidence-building capacity. Highlights include codifying Statistical Policy Directive #1 (which defines the responsibilities of principal statistical agencies as producers of relevant, timely and objective data while protecting the trust and confidentiality of data providers), mandating that agencies create evidence-building plans, establishing the roles of Chief Evaluation Officers and Chief Data Officers, strengthening the coordinating role of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and establishing a uniform process for outside researchers to apply for access to restricted federal data. The bill would also begin the process of examining the feasibility of the National Secure Data Service proposed by the Commission by establishing an Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building. The bill also incorporates a version of the OPEN Government Data Act (H.R. 1770/S. 760), introduced by Rep. Kilmer and Sen. Schatz, which would require that federal agencies make their data public and accessible by default (unless there were compelling reasons not to) and create inventories of federal data.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, which is housing the ongoing activities of the Commission, has published a thorough summary of the bill and cross-referenced the Commission’s recommendations with the provisions in the legislation.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 14), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

CNSTAT Issues Report on Federal Statistics, Multiple Data Sources, and Privacy Protection

The Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently issued a consensus report entitled Federal Statistics, Multiple Data Sources, and Privacy Protection: Next Steps. The report was produced by the Panel on Improving Federal Statistics for Policy and Social Science Research Using Multiple Data Sources and State-of-the-Art Estimation Methods, chaired by Robert Groves of Georgetown University. The Panel’s first report, Innovations in Federal Statistics: Combining Data Sources While Protecting Privacy, was published in January 2017, and described some of the challenges currently facing the federal statistical system’s current paradigm of heavy reliance on sample surveys and recommended a new approach of combining different kinds of federal and private data, as well as the creation of an entity to facilitate that. Federal Statistics, Multiple Data Sources, and Privacy Protection builds on the first report and examines statistical methods for combining diverse types of data, the implications relying on multiple data sources may have for IT systems, different statistical and computer science approaches to enhancing privacy protections, how to ensure the quality and utility of statistics produced using multiple data sources, and ways to implement the “new entity” that would facilitate combining data sources. The pre-publication version of the report is available on the National Academies’ website.

There is quite a bit of overlap in the areas addressed by the CNSTAT panel and those addressed by the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, which released its report in September (see COSSA’s coverage the Commission)—in fact, Panel Chair Robert Groves served on the Commission as well. However, while the resulting reports from the two groups are hopefully complementary, their work was conducted independent of one another.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

COSSA Praises Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking Report

On October 11, COSSA issued a statement on the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking’s final report, released in September (see COSSA’s summary of the report’s recommendations). The statement reads:

“COSSA applauds the work of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking and commends its open, thorough process in producing its final report, The Promise of Evidence-Based Policymaking. The report represents the beginning of what we hope will be an ongoing, nonpartisan discussion on how the federal government can incentivize decision-making based on sound science while ensuring the careful stewardship of confidential information. The Commission’s recommendations demonstrate that expanding the use of evidence and data collection for policymaking purposes is not incompatible with enhancing privacy protections and transparency.

“COSSA thanks the Commissioners and their staff for their hard work, as well as Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray both for their foresight in authoring the Commission’s establishing legislation and their ongoing commitment to removing barriers to generating and using evidence to build strong public policy. While the recommendations in the report are an important start, many details on how to implement the vision set forth by the Commission remain to be determined. COSSA looks forward to working with its partners in Congress and at federal agencies on legislation and policy changes to ensure that the work of the Commission is brought to fruition.”

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Posted in Issue 19 (October 3), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking Releases Final Report

On September 7, the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (CEP) released its final report, The Promise of Evidence-Based Policymaking. The Commission was established by the bipartisan Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016, which had been introduced by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the House and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in the Senate. The Commission consisted of 15 members appointed by the President, Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader, Senate Majority Leader, and Senate Minority Leader, with five members being selected for their privacy expertise. Katharine G. Abraham, University of Maryland, chaired the Commission, with Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution, as her co-chair. The CEP was given a little over a year to develop a strategy for strengthening the government’s evidence-building and policymaking efforts, including identifying ways to more effectively use the data the government already collects. The Promise of Evidence-Based Policymaking is the culmination of these efforts and was approved unanimously by all 15 commissioners. COSSA’s previous coverage of the Commission can be found here.

Recommendations for Enhancing Evidence-Based Policymaking

The report makes 22 recommendations, falling into four broad categories: (1) Improving Secure, Private, and Confidential Data Access; (2) Enhancing Privacy Protections for Evidence Building; (3) Modernizing America’s Data Infrastructure for Accountability and Privacy; and (4) Strengthening Federal Evidence-Building Capacity. One of the cornerstone recommendations is the establishment of a National Secure Data Service, which would be “charged with facilitating access and ensuring protection of data for evidence-building.” The Service would not be a clearinghouse or warehouse that stores federal data, but would instead facilitate temporary data linkages for discrete, approved projects and ensure that strict privacy standards are adhered to.

Other recommendations aim to build evidence-building and evaluation into the routine operations of federal agencies. These include requiring federal departments to appoint a Chief Evaluation Officer, directing departments and agencies to develop “learning agendas” that identify evidence-building priorities, directing the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to coordinate evidence-building and evaluation activities across the government, streamlining the approval process for data collection, and ensuring that departments and agencies are given sufficient resources for evidence-building.

The report also recommends:

  • Allowing statistical uses of survey and administrative data and repealing bans on collection and use of data for evidence-building
  • Facilitating access to state-collected data for evidence-building purposes, in particular quarterly earnings data
  • Establishing centralized, streamlined processes for granting approved outside researchers access to government data
  • Requiring federal agencies to conduct risk assessments before releasing data publicly

Next Steps

The Commission’s original legislative sponsors, Speaker Ryan and Sen. Murray, joined the Commissioners at a release event for the report at the Capitol on Thursday. Both lawmakers praised the work of the Commission and the final report and pledged to introduce legislation to enact some of the report’s recommendations. Speaker Ryan called the report a “phenomenal piece of work” and said that he would continue to work with Sen. Murray on bills “to improve access to data, improve privacy, and help expand our capacity to improve programs.” Sen. Murray likewise called the report “fantastic” and said, “We are working on legislation—and hope to introduce it soon—to turn several of the nearly two dozen recommendations into law and lay down a foundation for even more work to come.”

As for the Commission itself, the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center has announced that it will take on the future activities of the Commission as its new Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative. Abraham and Haskins will retain their leadership roles as chair and co-chair, and the Commission’s policy and research director will move to the Bipartisan Policy Center to direct the new initiative. Detailed information on exactly what the future activities of this Initiative will entail are not yet available, however.

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Posted in Issue 18 (September 19), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Seeks Input

The Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, established by a law passed in March 2016, is charged with producing a report that identifies how the government can enhance its use of data and evidence to improve federal programs and policies, to be delivered to the President and Congress within 15 months of the Commission’s formation. As it begins its work, the Commission is seeking input on existing strategies and practices for generating and incorporating data and evidence into policymaking as well as potential challenges it may encounter. The Commission has requested comments on 19 questions across three broad categories: (1) overarching questions, (2) data infrastructure and access, and (3) data use in program design, management, research, evaluation, and analysis. For full details, see the notice in the Federal Register. Comments must be submitted to regulations.gov (Docket ID USBC-2016-0003) by November 14, 2016.

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Posted in Issue 18 (September 20), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

Evidence-Based Policymaking Bill Advances through House

On July 27, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2015 (H.R. 1831). Introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) with companion legislation introduced in the Senate (S. 991) by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the bill would establish a 15 member commission tasked with studying how best to expand the use of and/or coordinate federal administrative data for use in evaluation of federal programs. The commission would also explore whether to establish a federal clearinghouse for program and survey data, which would be accessible to “qualified researchers” from the public and private sectors. More information on the bill can be found here.

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Posted in Issue 15 (August 11), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

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