It’s been said and written about many times, but 2020 presented new and staggering challenges across the world and in this country. Data policy was no exception.
At the beginning of the year, the President’s 2021 budget included positive signals for data and evidence priorities. Many agencies made progress in prioritizing Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) implementation and offered considered assessments of resource needs. Additionally, secure data sharing and access became a substantial part of agency planning, and artificial intelligence funding offered the potential to benefit core data infrastructure.
As the pandemic hit, it became increasingly clear that high quality, accessible and useable data would be necessary for an informed, evidence-based response. Here are just a few of the examples of what has been accomplished in the past 12 months:
Data Priorities in COVID Response
The Data Coalition provided an open letter to Congress that outlined key recommendations for the pandemic response that aligned with our policy priorities, including improving data standards, expanding access to essential data, and implementing transparency and oversight for relief and stimulus funding.
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act
Oversight on Government Spending
The CARES Act created vital transparency and reporting requirements that mean intense coordination across the federal enterprise in order to manage the high volume of information required for effective oversight. The Data Coalition’s Budget Transparency Taskforce strongly urged the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to use existing infrastructure and data analysis standards in order to quickly establish meaningful transparency for emergency spending associated with the country’s response to the pandemic.
Public Health Data
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received $500 million as a part of the CARES Act for improving our existing public health surveillance and analytics infrastructure, in order to provide more timely and accurate health data to inform pandemic response.
The Data Coalition first encouraged Congress to support and fund the development of a large-scale, household survey on COVID-19 impacts in March. The Census Bureau is now collecting new data on households and small businesses through their new pulse surveys. These government collections are done on a large scale and provide official data for researchers, policymakers, and others. These government efforts are essential and work together with private philanthropic efforts like the COVID Impact Survey. The Data Coalition will continue to advocate for efforts to promote this type of valuable data collection, including a pulse survey for assessing the impacts of COVID-19 on the nation’s education infrastructure.
Progress on National Secure Data Service
Three years ago, the experts on the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking unanimously recommended a national secure data service be established. Throughout this year, the Data Coalition has been meeting with Congressional offices highlighting a data service as one reasonable, low-cost strategy for support the use of government-collected data to respond to the pandemic. Recognizing recent changes to federal law and the contemporaneous environment, the recommendation to establish a new Federally Funded Research and Development Center at the National Science Foundation.
Legislative Victories and Priorities
The Taxpayers Right to Know Act in the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 6395)
The Taxpayers Right-to-Know Act (TPRTK) was a part of the Data Coalition’s legislative agenda and was included in the final version of this year’s NDAA, which passed both chambers with a veto-proof majority. TPRTK uses existing government-wide financial data standards to make information about federal expenditures more readily available and transparent to American taxpayers. This will increase the understanding of how to improve the productivity and impact of federal programs delivering valuable services to the American public.
Open the Courts Act of 2020
This bill passed the House of Representatives this year, with provisions that will require the electronic court records system to comply with data accessibility standards. Though this bill will need more work in the upcoming Congress, we were glad to see this part of our legislative agenda progress as well.
Health STATISTICS Act
The Data Coalition provided technical assistance to Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), who along with Reps. Lucy McBath (D-GA), Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced the bipartisan Health Standards to Advance Transparency, Integrity, Science, Technology Infrastructure, and Confidential Statistics Act of 2020 (Health STATISTICS) Act. This legislation builds on the Evidence Act by addressing the weaknesses of our public health surveillance system by ensuring the CDC and the public have access to timely accurate and actionable data critical to pandemic response
The Data Coalition endorsed the principles for a national AI strategy outlined in a House Resolution, sponsored by Reps Will Hurd (R-TX) and Robin Kelly (D-IL). With existing laws, such as the Foundations for Evidence Act and the OPEN Government Data Act, the adoption of AI envisioned in the Hurd-Kelly resolution can be achieved by transparently and equitably promoting the use of high-quality data across government.
Federal Data Strategy Forum: Year 2
The Data Coalition and the Data Foundation co-hosted an open forum on the Federal Data Strategy, which is entering its second year. Speakers reinforced the need for a federal data strategy to meet social needs and expressed interest and enthusiasm for helping policymakers implement new legal and regulatory framework.
Looking forward to 2021
In 2021, as we work to control the pandemic and towards economic recovery, data will play an important role. Prioritizing data and evidence-building priorities will help inform effective and efficient policies to address existing and emerging challenges. In addition to our recommendations for the incoming Administration, we will continue to support the Chief Data Officer Council and other advisory bodies, advocate for the continued implementation of the Evidence Act, and support the continuation of a Federal Data Strategy. The Data Coalition is looking forward to continuing our advocacy and building a strong stakeholder community.