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Congress Provides New Foundation for Evidence-Based Policymaking

Congress took another step toward improving the availability of evidence for important policy decisions by passing the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018. The legislation follows two years of growing support for evidence-based policymaking in the federal government. 

In 2017, the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (CEP) issued its unanimous recommendations to improve how data are used to generate evidence about policies and programs in the federal government. Earlier in 2018, the President’s Management Agenda established a priority goal to leverage data as a strategic asset and the executive branch has taken steps to develop a long-term Federal Data Strategy. Congress also signaled its support for the increased use of evidence in policymaking, including a draft bill improving the use of evidence for drug policy and providing funding for “Pay For Success” grants, in addition to numerous provisions in a budget agreement in early 2018.  

The legislation that passed this week includes key recommendations made by the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking that will strengthen privacy protections, improve secure access to data, and enhance government’s evidence-building capacity.

Summary of CEP Recommendations included in the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018


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Summary of CEP Recommendations included in the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018

TopicBill Section #CEP Rec. #
Strengthens Privacy Protections

Establish an Agency Official for Data Policy
101(a) (§314)3-3
Designate Chief Data Officers 202(e) (§3520)3-3
Codify Statistical Policy Directive #1302(a) (§3563 and §3572(b))3-4
Conduct of Comprehensive Risk Assessment and Analysis of Data Sensitivity303(a) (§3582)3-1
Improves Secure Access to Data
Establish the Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building 101(a) (§315) 4-2
Create and update Data Inventories with Metadata202(d) (§3511)4-5
Make Data Available for Statistical Activities303(a) (§3581)2-3
Develop a Single Process for Researcher Access to Data303(a) (§3583)2-8
Improve Transparency About Projects Using Confidential Data303(a) (§3583(a)(6))4-3
Enhances Evidence-Building Capacity
Requires Agencies to Produce Evidence-Building Plans (learning agendas)101(a) (§312)5-2
Recognizes the Evaluation Function with Designation of Evaluation Officers and Requirements for Written Evaluation Policies101(a) (§313)5-1
Generate an Inventory of Evidence-Building Units101(c)5-1
Establish a Chief Data Officer Council202(f) (§3 520A)5-3
Improve Standard for Data Confidentiality and Disclosure Practices302(a) (§3562)5-3

Strengthening Privacy Protections 

Privacy protections are already strong in government but can still be improved to better protect confidential data as more use of those data occurs. The legislation includes several of the CEP’s privacy recommendations. 

  • Maintains Strong Confidentiality Protections for Sensitive Data. Reauthorizes the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act (CIPSEA), an existing law that gives the American public strong privacy safeguards and legal protections for appropriate uses of confidential data.  
  • Institutes Processes to Assess Data Risks. Strengthens efforts to protect confidentiality while making data accessible for evidence building and transparent to the public by requiring comprehensive risk assessments for certain publicly released data. 
  • Enhances Public Trust in Data. Improves public trust in statistical activities by codifying language directing certain agencies to establish procedures to protect trust in data activities by appropriately maintaining objectivity, independence, and confidentiality. 
  • Establishes Consistent Leadership on Key Data Issues. Ensures a senior leader in each agency is responsible for protecting privacy and ensuring confidentiality protections are appropriately applied by creating chief data officers. 

Improving Secure Data Access 

The data that government already collects holds the potential to vastly improve the amount and quality of evidence available for policymaking. As privacy protections are strengthened, the draft legislation also includes several recommendations to improve secure data access.  

  • Encourages Agencies to Make Data Public and Open When Possible. Takes steps to improve the public information about what data government currently holds and make data publicly available when possible and in the public interest.  
  • Requires Development of Data Inventories. Enables researchers and evaluators to better identify what government-collected data are available by directing agencies to create and maintain data inventories and publicly provide details about those datasets.  
  • Makes Administrative Records Available for Evidence Building. Under a strong set of confidentiality protections, encourages that government data can and should be used to generate evidence about policies and programs, unless otherwise restricted by law.  
  • Creates a Common Portal for Researcher Applications to Access Restricted Data. Reduces burden on researchers for applying to access government data by establishing a common application system for qualified individuals to access restricted, confidential data for approved projects. 
  • Facilitates Continuous Feedback about Data Coordination. Promotes the use of data for evidence building by establishing a government advisory committee to review existing coordination and availability of data.  

Enhancing Government Capacity 

In line with CEP’s recognition that improved data access and privacy protections alone cannot drive increased evidence building in government, the bill also includes recommendations from CEP to improve government’s capacity to generate and use evidence. 

  • Directs Agencies to Develop Evidence Plans. Enables agencies to better prioritize evidence building by requiring that agencies document their key research questions, data needs, and planned activities.   
  • Prioritizes Evaluation Activities in Agencies. Improves agency capacity to engage in and use program evaluation by establishing evaluation officers in government agencies and requiring agencies to develop written evaluation policies.  
  • Develops Baseline Information about the Resources Available for Evidence Building. Directs government agencies to periodically assess and report on their capabilities to engage in statistical, evaluation, and policy analysis activities and use the corresponding evidence for day-to-day government operations.  

The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act addresses half of the CEP recommendations and will be another major step forward in improving the creation and use of evidence to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs and policies for the American public.

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