By: AIF Staff
Washington, DC – This weekend, American Idea Foundation President and former Speaker Paul Ryan talked with Government Matters‘ Mimi Geerges about his work in Congress to fight poverty and expand economic opportunities. In the interview, Speaker Ryan discussed how the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act is currently being utilized by federal agencies to modernize data collection, analysis, security, and dissemination practices.
The implementation of this legislation, which Speaker Ryan sponsored with Senator Patty Murray of Washington, was the subject of Speaker Ryan’s remarks at the 2021 GovDATAx conference. At its core, the legislation is designed to improve the federal government’s use of data, evidence, and analytics so it can allocate funds more effectively and achieve meaningful results through social safety net programs.
Ryan’s interview with Government Matters is available here or by clicking the icon below. Some notable excerpts, edited slightly for clarity, follow.
“I’ve always had just a big desire to focus on [fighting poverty]. I spent a lot of my time in Congress on these issues and I was just raised with this gorgeous notion of the American Idea, or what I call the American Idea, which is the condition of your birth should not determine the outcome of your life in a free society such as ours. Everybody has the right to rise, but also we should nurture people’s ability to rise and make the most of their life.”
“When I left Congress, I wanted to still work on some of the ideas that I’m passionate about. I was a policymaker for 20 years in Congress. I left Congress but I didn’t leave my love of public policy, so I decided to start the American Idea Foundation so I could continue to focus on these issues – in particular, fighting poverty, that are very important to me…. I spent years on this first when I was Chairman of the Budget Committee and then when I was Ways and Means Chair. We were coming up on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. We had spent $15 trillion yet we hadn’t moved the needle nearly as much as we should have. And so, I spent a lot of my time figuring out what went wrong, what are the lessons, what are the takeaways, and one of the things, using my economic-thinking hat, that I took away was we weren’t measuring things the right way. We measured government’s success in fighting poverty based on effort and inputs. [We measured success by] how much money are we spending, how many programs are we creating versus measuring success on a set of results and outcomes. Where are we really getting people out of poverty? Where are people breaking the cycle of poverty where we deal with the tough issue of multi-generational poverty?
“That is where I got very interested in this issue which spawned me to create the Evidence Commission and then to write the Evidence-Based Policymaking Act to try to move the War on Poverty from an input-based and effort-based measurement system to an outcomes-based system where we actually measure our efforts based on results.”
The Nurse-Family Partnership program is a prime example of using evidence to improve outcomes:
“I was in South Carolina with Senator Tim Scott and Congressmen Joe Wilson and Ralph Norman in June and we went into rural South Carolina and looked at something called the Nurse-Family Partnership Program, which is authorized by a federal program called MIECHV, the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visitation program.
“It is one of the few evidence-based federal programs. What it does is it pairs a nurse with a low-income expectant mother and [the nurse] helps that mother through the prenatal stage up until her child is two years old. They use very rigorous data and reporting for these programs. This program was started by President George W. Bush. It was continued by President Barack Obama and recently reauthorized by President Donald Trump. So, [it expanded during] three different presidential administrations, all because of good data and because it had proven results to show it was working.
“It was not controversial, it was non-partisan. I was involved in each of these Administrations and the results are really clear. A study from 2019 shows that money invested yielded a 6 to 1 benefit to cost ratio. It provides $27,000 in savings per family in the form of reduced public assistance. It improves health outcomes of the mother and of the child. Participants have a higher likelihood of graduating high school and lower incidences of domestic violence.
“In other words, rigorous data is showing that this particular program of intervening and helping young, expectant mothers at the prenatal stage until their child is two years old really makes a difference. And doing these programs with rigorous data makes sure that the programs are done well and done effectively. This is one example of something that I think has worked really well because of data collection and because of evidence and this is the kind of thing that we’re promoting with the American Idea Foundation.”
Why the Evidence Based Policymaking Act was needed:
“It was basically needed because Congress was not evaluating whether what we were doing was working or not. There really wasn’t any process in place to measure the effectiveness and the outcome of our poverty-fighting efforts. The Evidence-Based Policymaking Act was based upon the Evidence Commission that said: “Here’s how you do this, here’s how you can collect data, here’s how you secure data with privacy and cyber protections, and then here’s how you disseminate that so that we can use that and measure whether or not something works or not.” [This way] policymakers can be better informed so that we can tie evidence to funding, so we can go with what works versus what doesn’t work.”
Adopting Best Practices to collect better, more impactful data and evidence:
“I’m a huge believer in what we call Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs). I teach at Notre Dame and I work with Notre Dame’s Laboratory for Economic Opportunity. We run randomized controlled trials, about 75 per year, on poverty programs so you can really measure what works. Using RCTs, using evidence, and then showing policymakers what works and what doesn’t work is, I think, going to really move us so we can be more effective as a federal government, more effective as charities, and more effective as nonprofits.
“And then the other thing I’d say is removing the silos so that data can cross over, so you can cross-connect data so you can learn from it. That’s one of the problems that the federal government has is that we collect data in silos, so break down those silos, allow data-sharing across different data sets, and you can really get some rich, robust research to find out what works and what doesn’t.”
To read the legislative text of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018, click here.