By: AIF Staff
This week, President Biden signed into law the CHIPS & Science Act of 2022. The legislation, which was primarily focused on making the United States more competitive with China, also included an important provision establishing a National Secure Data Service (NSDS) demonstration project at the National Science Foundation.
This may seem like a small accomplishment relative to the larger aims of the bill, but it’s an impactful one. Congress’ willingness to advance a National Secure Data Service demonstration project is a positive development for those who believe in evidence-based public policy-making and it is the product of years of hard work.
In 2015-2016, Speaker Ryan was a lead sponsor of legislation that created a bipartisan Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. This Commission, put simply, was tasked by Congress to provide recommendations on how the federal government could secure, collect, and utilize data to construct effective public policies.
One of their recommendations was to create a National Secure Data Service. In their 2017 report, the Commission succinctly described why this National Secure Data Service was necessary, saying in part:
“Better access to these data holds the potential for substantial gains for society. The Commission’s recommendations recognize that the country’s laws and practices are not currently optimized to support the use of data for evidence building, nor in a manner that best protects privacy. To correct these problems, the Commission makes the following recommendations….
“Establish a National Secure Data Service to facilitate access to data for evidence building while ensuring privacy and transparency in how those data are used. As a state-of-the-art resource for improving government’s capacity to use the data it already collects, the National Secure Data Service will be able to temporarily link existing data and provide secure access to those data for exclusively statistical purposes in connection with approved projects.”
Going to great lengths to achieve a balance between data security and accessibility, the Commission also specified that the NSDS had to have specific privacy protections so data was protected.
Following the Commission’s recommendations, Congressman Don Beyer of Virginia introduced stand-alone legislation called National Secure Data Service Act in 2021. The bill would:
“Allow access to government data by qualified researchers for approved purposes, ensuring privacy and transparency for the data service’s activities. Beyer’s bill would create a NSDS demonstration project housed within the National Science Foundation to test and refine approaches that would inform the implementation of a government-wide data linkage and access infrastructure, with the goal of scaling up the project in the future.”
This language from Rep. Beyer’s bill was largely incorporated into the CHIPS & Science Act of 2022. The Data Coalition, one of the leading advocates for the National Secure Data Service, described the multi-year accomplishment this way:
“The NSDS will encourage government and research partners to organize, analyze, and use information in support of evidence-informed decision-making to improve society…. The NSDS can help government officials and researchers meet the demand from decision-makers for useful, high-quality evidence that is timely, relevant, reliable, and detailed enough to inform policy while protecting the privacy of individuals and businesses.”
In the context of an enormous bill focused on semiconductors and competition with China, the creation of a demonstration project for the NSDS may seem insignificant. In fact, it is a meaningful milestone and an instructive reminder for those who want to see greater adoption of evidence-based public policies at the federal level.
The creation of the NSDS demonstration project shows that getting the government to prioritize evidence-based policy-making will take time. But the time and effort are well worth it because the advancement of the NSDS will ultimately lead to better data collection and data sharing practices by the government. This, in turn, will lead to more evidenced-based public policies and those policies have the ability to help more and more Americans in profound ways. In short, the National Secure Data Service was well worth fighting for.