By: AIF Staff
Earlier this week, as part of the Coleridge Initiative’s Show Us the Data conference, American Idea Foundation President Paul Ryan delivered a keynote address on how the federal government can utilize data and evidence to maximum effect and, in the process, help Americans out of poverty.
The Coleridge Initiative’s conference highlighted the ongoing work of data science teams who are modernizing the federal government’s information systems and dataflow. The conference aimed to answer the questions: How can federal agencies best use data and make informed decisions about what data to invest in? And how can researchers, academic institutions, and publishers help build data and evidence to better inform policy?
In his remarks, Speaker Ryan highlighted the various steps of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Act. The idea started with a bipartisan Commission, setup by Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray. Then, many of the Commission’s recommendations codified into law. Now, the law is guiding government agencies to develop modern data collection, security, and dissemination practices. These practices will ultimately help the federal government and policymakers utilize and evaluate data which should result in better outcomes, particularly when it comes to fighting poverty.
Ryan’s remarks, which recognized the contributions of those experts who are advancing the data practices of the federal government, are accessible here. A transcript, edited slightly for clarity, follows.
“I spent 20 years in Congress working on a lot of economic issues. I spent five years before that working in the field of economics as a staffer and at think tanks. During my entire career, I found myself always wanting more data and I found myself trying to quantify things
“It’s why I served as Chairman of the Budget Committee and the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and as I looked through my career, what I realized was that when working with agencies like Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), their data wasn’t reaching the furthest extent possible. It wasn’t going where it needed to go. One of the other issues that I felt where the federal government had an important responsibility – and where it was really falling short, was alleviating poverty.
“The federal government does so much in this space. It spends about $1 trillion dollars a year over almost 100 different programs and as we evaluated this spending and looked at all of the data, we realized that we weren’t following the evidence and that the federal government was more or less measuring its progress on this important issue based on inputs. It measured how many programs are we creating and how much money are we spending on these programs and it was not measuring based on results and outcomes. It was not following the best results, finding what works and finding what didn’t work, and moving those taxpayer dollars to things that did work. That wasn’t happening in government so I basically decided to take on the challenge, midway through my career, to try and find a way of de-politicizing fighting poverty and taking the ideology out of these fights.
“And that’s the one other point I would make, which is as I went into this space and tried reforming lots of programs, I found myself in an ideological, partisan battle almost every step of the way as we tried to make things different and better. And so, what I realized was that data is the one thing that is really unassailable. The one unassailable thing today is facts, evidence, scientific data.
“This is what led me down this path and after speaking with a number of economists and teaming up with my buddy Patty Murray (D-WA), who is totally on the other side of the aisle but a good friend of mine nonetheless, we tried to find a way of sorting this out. [We asked] could we get the federal government to really use its data so that partners in academia, partners in the private sector, partners in the vendor community, and government agencies themselves could use this data and evidence? And if so, where would that take us? Would that make our government work better? Would we be able to achieve the results we want to achieve?
“We can move down the path of making things work better and better fulfilling our goals and our missions and our visions without these hardcore, ideological, partisan battles and that is why we chose the Evidence Act. It’s why Senator Murray and I did a commission and then passed the bill we have now. And I’m really excited about the “Version 2.0” of the Evidence Act, which is where do we go from here, how do we deploy this, how do we make it work so it is better effectuating policy.
“I saw a couple of glimpses of the promise of this approach. I was in Manning, South Carolina earlier this year, visiting for the fourth or fifth time a program that I’m really enamored with, the Nurse-Family Partnership program. The Nurse-Family Partnership is a program that’s been around for a while and is funded through the MIECHV program. It’s one of a few programs where the federal government has been using data and collecting evidence on where a nurse visits a new, first-time mother – usually an inexperienced mother, to help make sure that this mom is really prepared for motherhood by providing prenatal and postnatal care. The results are simply amazing.
“It has a $6 to $1 cost-benefit ratio and there is a $27,000 improvement per family to society in the form of reduced government benefits because of this Nurse-Family Partnership program. And what was this program, politically speaking? It started with President Bush. It got expanded with President Obama and renewed under the Trump Administration. These are three very different presidents, very different administrations. The one thing the program had is unassailable data and evidence that showed it works.
“I saw that particular program as a window into a very positive future where we use data and evidence, working with the private sector, with the academic sector, with colleges and universities, with philanthropies and foundations, and with for-profits and the government and where we can really effectuate policy….
“I think we can leapfrog the stalemate. We can bypass all the unproductive, ideological and partisan gridlock we have and make government work. We can move the needle on the missions that we all want in society: We want poverty to be alleviated. We want upper mobility. We want to solve problems that society has and nowhere is this better made clear than if we follow evidence and data, so much of which is already being collected, but we need the tools and the capabilities to not just understand what’s being collected but empower people to find unassailable, unbiased, objective truth and facts and science and data and evidence so that we can really move the needle and solve problems….
“And so, I just want to commend the Coleridge Initiative and the award winners and say thank you for doing what you’re doing because you’re showing the promise of these ideas that we’ve had all along. Thank you and have a great conference.”