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What the Budget Deal Means for Evidence-Based Activities

The bipartisan budget deal reached in the Senate this week contains provisions that are a step forward for evidence-based policymaking.

The draft continuing resolution contains language signaling support for using evidence in policy, and specific funding for a surprising number of evidence-based policymaking priorities. The full details of specific appropriations will not be finalized until March, so the fact that these programs received support as part of this interim bill is an encouraging sign of bipartisan support for evidence-based policy in Congress.

The specific programs and policies supported by the bill would both encourage executive agencies to use evidence to better implement federal programs and provide funding for gathering additional evidence that will be used to inform future decisions.

The draft mentions evaluation 104 times and evidence 44 times. In many ways the mere presence of the terms suggests growing demand for evidence-building activities from Congress, a sentiment noticed by the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking in 2017.

Even more encouraging, several specific activities addressed by the legislation are long-favored by the evidence-building community.

  • Reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (Title VI). The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) requires grantees to use program models that have proven effective through rigorous testing. Ron Haskins, co-chair of BPC’s Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative, has referred to MIECHV as a social program “that works” because new evidence is generated to ensure the program routinely deploys the best strategies available to improve program outcomes.
  • Family First Prevention Services Act (Title VII). In line with the recommendations from the U.S. Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities in 2016, the Family First Prevention Services Act develops requirements for implementation of evidence-based prevention activities in foster care, with the goal of reducing inappropriate or unnecessary foster care placements.
  • Pay for Success Legislation (Title VIII). The bipartisan “‘Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act” is incorporated in the bill, legislation previously filed in the 113th and 114th Congresses as well. The provisions create requirements for federal agencies to direct resources to state and local entities for engagement in Pay for Success projects, which connect payments for contracts to their success at achieving the pre-defined and measurable outcomes, determined by evaluation results.
  • 2020 Census Funding. In late 2017 the Trump administration announced that additional funding would be needed to keep the 2020 Decennial Census on track. The administration requested that Congress appropriate an additional $187 million beyond the previous request, in order for the agency to meet operational and system testing deadlines. The Senate appears committed to Census doing just that, including an additional $182 million for the Census Bureau and providing language that sets an expectation for the activities to remain on schedule.

Overall the draft legislation suggests positive signs about Congress’s eventual use of evidence. Beyond the areas referenced above, the draft continuing resolution includes numerous targeted evaluation requests where Congress has indicated there are specific issues or areas they want to know more about to inform future actions.

In 2017, a Bipartisan Policy Center white paper highlighted both a growing need for Congress to engage in evidence-based policymaking and increasing interest in doing so. The Senate continuing resolution shows Congress is increasingly moving in this direction and doing so in a bipartisan manner.

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