Is Evidence-Based Policymaking Here to Stay?
Evidence-based policymaking envisions “a future in which rigorous evidence is created efficiently, as a part of routine government operations, and used to construct effective public policy.” Evidence-Based Rulemaking is a subset of the same but with an emphasis on federal rulemaking. In fact an ongoing debate, as noted below, is limited exclusively to rulemaking.
The US Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking issued The Promise of Evidence-Based Policymaking in September 2017 which was directed toward enhancing evidence-based policymaking in federal agencies. Notwithstanding the aforementioned laudable goal the Commission did not address the significant contribution the Data Access Act could play in the advancement of evidence-based policymaking; in fact it is central to the discussion as demonstrated by the Commission in the quotations which follow. Nonetheless and much to its credit the Commission report does emphasize the role of both the Paperwork Reduction Act and the Data Quality Act as well as the important role OIRA could exercise in this endeavor
The report concludes:
The Commission believes that improved access to data under more privacy- protective conditions can lead to an increase in both the quantity and the quality of evidence to inform important program and policy decisions. Traditionally, increasing access to confidential data presumed significantly increasing privacy risk. The Commission rejects that idea. The Commission believes there are steps that can be taken to improve data security and privacy protections beyond what exists today, while increasing the production of evidence.
Specifically, the Commission’s report includes recommendations on (1) how the Federal government can provide the infrastructure for secure access to data, (2) the mechanisms to improve privacy protections and transparency about the uses of data for evidence building, and (3) the institutional capacity to support evidence building.
While the Federal government has already taken steps towards developing an “evidence culture,” much remains to be done. A particularly important barrier to government’s further progress is lack of access by researchers outside of government and by individuals within government to the data necessary for evidence building, even when those data have already been collected.
The Commission believes that enabling improved access to data under more modern privacy-protective conditions will lead to more and better evidence. Improvement in access can occur safely with improved privacy protections.
The Office of Management and Budget should promulgate a single, streamlined process for researchers external to the government to apply, become qualified, and gain approval to access government data that are not publicly available.
The outcome of any number of agency-specific skirmishes might determine the ultimate fate of evidence-based policymaking. If the evidence-based policymaking community fails to participate in these transactions on a continual basis a well considered idea might well reside only in academia. To this end those entities involved in carrying forward the work of the Commission might invest a few minutes to increasing their knowledge of several of the cornerstones of evidence-based rulemaking notwithstanding the fact that most Americans have a nanosecond interest in history, see here, here, here and here.
That said what could be any more significant to evidence-based policymaking than the Data Access Act, which gives the public the right to studies financed by the federal government, the Data Quality Act, which allows the public to demand and obtain corrections in the myriad of federal databases and the Paperwork Reduction Act which controls the amount of information the government can collect from its citizens? Surprisingly the aforementioned statutes are seldom given significant attention in the literature on evidence-based policymaking.
The Triangle for Evidence-Based Rulemaking
Program Management: OIRA
— The Paperwork Reduction Act provides the principles of governance for evidence-based rulemaking through the establishment of OIRA and its resultant responsibility for ensuring due process for the implementation of privacy safegurards.
— The Data Access Act ensures the availability of data.
— The Data Quality Act ensures the accuracy of data used for evidence-based rulemaking.
Finally, in today’s political environment advocates of evidence-based policymaking might be wise to work within existing statutes and organizational structures as outlined above in lieu of attempting to create new ones. Of course there are instances where non-evidenced base policymaking morphs into one that is evidenced-based.