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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