House Appropriations Signal Importance of Data in FY 2021 Reports


House Appropriations Signal Importance of Data in FY 2021 Reports

The House Committee on Appropriations completed markups this week, and the appropriation bills are expected to pass the whole chamber, largely along party lines. While the figures in the bills will not be the final spending amounts, the reports which provide more detailed guidance to agencies demonstrate that House lawmakers consider data provisions an important part of how the government operates. 

Continuing with the Evidence Act

The Data Coalition’s request for $5 million for the General Services Administration to implement the OPEN Government Data Act (Title II of the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-435)) was included in the Financial Services report. A major victory for data initiatives across government. In their report, the committee directs these funds are to be used to support the establishment and maintenance of a Federal Data Catalogue; assistance to Federal agencies for implementation of the requirement of Comprehensive Data Inventories; and the establishment of an open data best practices online repository, including additional personnel dedicated to operational and standards-setting support functions.

In our advocacy work, the Data Coalition emphasized the importance of continued focus on the implementation of the Evidence Act at the executive agencies. Appropriators responded by encouraging agencies to comply with requirements for implementation, including requests for plans in future budget justifications for key agencies like the Departments of Commerce, Justice, Health and Human Services, Education, Veterans Affairs, State, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development. 

House Appropriators Prioritize Data Standards, Data Sharing, and Data Platforms

Appropriators also signaled interest in other key data areas such as open data standards, data sharing, and data platforms. For example, the Agriculture subcommittee recommends $1 million for the Under Secretary of Research, Education, and Economics to develop a public-private cooperative framework based on open data standards for the preservation and curation of this data in collaboration with land-grant universities. The prioritization of open data standards is reflected in other areas, such as new bill language requiring the Department of Education to publicly disclose information on postsecondary credentials and competencies in an open-source format.

Data sharing recommendations are also included across the appropriations bills, notably in the Department of Justice, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Department of Education, and the Department of Transportation. The Department of Health and Human Services report language also encourages an examination of issues around patient data matching in order to create data linkages across the continuum of care.

The Coast Guard would receive $6 million to implement a big data platform under the Homeland Security bill, and the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of the Interior would have $1.9 million to build out a multi-tiered enterprise data analysis program.

New Venues for the Use of AI Inside Government

Finally, the appropriators are looking towards innovation with increased interest in AI and machine learning. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is directed to study the effects of AI on the labor force, while other agencies are instructed to explore how AI can help further their missions. This ranges from wildfire warnings at the Department of Homeland Security to mental and physical health data at the CDC and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to budget and legislative analysis at the Congressional Budget Office. 

The Commerce Justice and Science subcommittee also directed the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop a  framework for managing AI risks, and data characterization standards in AIs “to build auto-detection models as part of the work to support reliable, robust, and trustworthy systems that use AI technologies.” NIST would receive an additional $10 million in funding to dedicate to these priorities. 

Next Steps

The Data Coalition is glad to see data provisions becoming more and more incorporated in the appropriations. This reflects a positive trend among policymakers relying on data and evidence in their decision making. Now that appropriations work is winding down in the House, the next phase of work shifts to the Senate, where the Data Coalition will continue to work to make sure the importance of data is included going forward.