By: AIF Staff
Nearly a year and a half ago, President Trump signed into law the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, which was originally introduced by former House Speaker and American Idea Foundation President, Paul Ryan, and Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington. The Bipartisan Policy Center described the reasoning behind the legislation succinctly:
“Whether developing regulations, setting funding levels, or determining which policies to advance, policymakers constantly demand that evidence be generated and available to meet this need. But too little evidence is produced to satisfy this demand. This legislation will improve the ability of researchers, evaluators, and statisticians both inside and outside government to securely use the data government already collects to better inform important policy decisions.”
The bill codified many of the recommendations offered in the final report of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. The bipartisan commission, which was created in 2016 as part of legislation authored by Ryan and Murray, was made up of 15 members and consisted of leading researchers and social scientists who were tasked with inventorying the data collected by the federal government and determining how best to use that data going forward. The Commissioners envisioned “a future in which rigorous evidence is created efficiently, as a routine part of government operations, and used to construct effective public policy.”
In an effort to make that vision a reality, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act took a big step forward in outlining how the federal government collects data, analyzes and distributes information, and safeguards this material. The American Idea Foundation believes that the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, over the long-term, has the potential to help legislators develop solutions to the challenges before our nation, and allow them to approach public policy problems with an eye on unbiased facts and figures, rather than partisan soundbites and preconceived notions.
Arguably, the most informative comprehensive section-by-section analysis of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act was produced by Results for America and is accessible here. The Data Coalition also produced a worthwhile summary of the key provisions, which is accessible here.
A few aspects of the legislation in particular are worth highlighting:
- Systemic Evidence-Building Plans by Agencies: 24 federal agencies are required to develop a blueprint of the data that they plan to collect and the evaluative questions that they will answer using this data.
- Appointment of Evaluation Officer: Each agency will designate an “Evaluation Officer,” who will assess the quality, effectiveness, and consistency of the evaluation activities, establish an agency-wide policy and develop individual evidence-building plans.
- Advisory Committee on Evidence Building: The Office of Management and Budget will establish an advisory group, consisting of 16 senior officers from across government, to make recommendations on the future use of data by the federal government. This Committee will be diverse in its make-up and members will help review the coordination of data-sharing across agencies and identify improvements for data collection and analysis.
- Promote Transparency through Open Data: All federal agencies must develop an open data plan that is publicly available and regularly updated. The legislation also encouraged collaboration and information-sharing of data assets with the public.
- Designation of Chief Data Officers: Every agency must appoint a Chief Data Officer who is tasked with managing data, making it accessible and shareable, and securing that data. These officers will ensure that best practices are implemented across government and will work to increase the sharing of data and strategic information assets between agencies.
The goal of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act is to increase the information that the federal government has at its disposal, because having that information should ultimately result in better public policies being developed. The legislation modernizes how the federal government systematically collects data and how it organizes this information so it is better positioned to answer key evaluation questions. The legislation brings the federal government into the 21st century in terms of data management, making it both more secure and more accessible across government agencies.
The Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking summed up the rationale for this legislation in its final report, saying: “Policymakers must have good information on which to base their decisions about improving the viability and effectiveness of government programs and policies. Today, too little evidence is produced to meet this need.”
The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act marked a major advancement in addressing this need and subsequent steps have been encouraging. The Office of Management and Budget recently published implementation recommendations and guidance for agencies to follow. Groups like the Data Coalition and Results for America have convened regular gatherings among data experts and practitioners to collaborate on best practices. And last year, Results for America recognized nine agencies as part of their Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence evaluation.
To be clear, this is a long-term project that requires constant maintenance. The federal government will have to methodically collect and build repositories of evidence and data in the years to come, but the Foundations of Evidence-Based Policymaking Act has laid a cornerstone upon which agencies can build.
With systems in place to collect, store, share, protect, and evaluate data, the federal government can better understand what solutions are working and achieving measurable levels of success. This information can then be utilized by policymakers who are tackling the pressing challenges facing our communities, which will in turn help Americans grow and prosper.
The idea of letting evidence and data inform government decisions is a high-minded goal, particularly in our current, polarized political environment, but the bipartisanship that has led the federal government to this point is a reason for optimism. Going forward, if agencies and policymakers build on the progress of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act to further modernize data systems, the federal government and citizens will reap the benefits.