Last week, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Commission on Evidence-based Policymaking’s (CEP) report, “The Promise of Evidence-based Policymaking,” and took the opportunity to join members of the Commission and other guests at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s event, “Evidence: Time for Act.” Revisiting the Commission’s recommendations, agency leads and former members of the Commission, including Robert Shea, Principal at Grant Thornton and Data Coalition member, discussed both how they had implemented recommendations and where they saw the greatest need for change.
Margaret Weichert, White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Deputy Director for Management, reinforced the Administration’s dedication to evidence-based decision-making during her keynote address. She applauded the data community for working to bring “modern, rigorous, evidence-based analysis to bear on the critical work of the U.S. government,” but noted the need to make this common practice across the government. “We strongly believe that evidence-based policy should be used to support mission, service, and stewardship of taxpayer funds.” While significant efforts and cultural shifts must be made within agencies for this to become the norm, a few panelists talked through examples of program innovation in their offices.
Tim Gribben, Chief Financial Officer at the Small Business Administration (SBA), managed the publication and response to the SBA’s learning agenda – a list of questions program offices need to answer. By publishing its learning agenda, SBA was able to develop research-based relationships with groups outside of the government to supplement what they do internally with co-sponsorship and student-volunteer authority. Entities like Wharton Business School and MIT have worked with the SBA to analyze economic recovery after natural disasters and impact of microloans, and the Alabama Center Insurance Information and Research proposed a project in which the SBA and ACIIR would analyze economic recovery in Texas after Hurricane Harvey.
Members of the Commission, including Robert Shea, concluded the celebration event with a look at what might be next for evidence-based policymaking. Shea and fellow panelists emphasized the importance of improving the reliability and access to trustworthy data – a point echoed among agency leaders who are working to address these issues. As trust in the data grows, federal agencies and congressional staff might lean more heavily on data-centric evidence to make decisions.
The amount of data available for analysis increases as agencies proceed with DATA Act implementation. With more data that is reliable, the potential for deeper insights on program management across the government expands. CEP recognized how the growing availability of data could transform the way the federal government makes decisions and made recommendations on how to improve data and financial stewardship through data and evidence-based decision-making.
Drawing attention to using data as a “strategic asset” is a concept imitated in the President’s Management Agenda (PMA), released in March 2018. Fourteen Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goals, listed in the PMA, provide specific components to facilitate the government’s modernization plans. The importance of data and data standards are repeated throughout the CAP Goals, notably in CAP Goal 1 and CAP Goal 8.
The Commission’s goal to advocate for “increasing the availability and use of data in order to build evidence about government programs,” parallels the Coalition’s advocacy agenda. Our Coalition sees the potential for standardized open data across government as a valuable asset that can be leveraged for evidence-based policymaking. CEP’s on-going efforts are important for building momentum both on Capitol Hill and with agencies and match our prior recommendations. As such, we will continue to support CEP’s work on increasing data availability, usability, and reliability to inform decision-making across the government.