Boosting integrity of federal policymaking is an easy win for Congress

Congress returned to Washington this week faced with a crushing year-end legislative agenda. But one bill, at least, holds the promise of genuine, bipartisan support. The House easily passed the “Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017” before Thanksgiving.

The bill, introduced by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in the House and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in the Senate, may be the only piece of legislation under consideration by the 115th Congress that can claim such broad support.

Republicans, even with their majority in Congress, have had enough problems lassoing their own colleagues on legislative initiatives (like the tax bill) and have had even less success reaching across the aisle. In fact, enough legislation has passed with the slimmest-possible margin that Vice President Mike Pence is on track to cast a record number of tie-breaking votes in the Senate.

The act and its outside supporters seem to be heading in the right direction for improving the use of data in government policymaking. Increasing evaluation capacity and overcoming persistent barriers to effective review of government programs will require long-term commitment and a holistic approach. The House passed the bill on Nov. 15, and its companion bill in the Senate has been referred to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

This bill would implement several recommendations the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking presented to Congress and the president earlier this year. Congress established the commission —composed of 15 members with a diverse range of expertise — during the Obama administration, charging it with finding ways for the government to improve its programs through more effective and efficient use of evidence and better sharing and protection of data.

Major elements of the House-passed bill include:

  • requiring for federal agencies to submit an annual evidence-building plan for consolidation into a single, government-wide plan by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
  • appointing or designating a Chief Evaluation Officer in every agency
  • establishing a government-wide advisory committee on evidence-based policymaking and an interagency council on evaluation policy led by OMB.

Title II of the bill, the Open Government Data Act, contains several provisions to increase the amount of government data available to the public. The bill also advances several initiatives aimed at increasing privacy standards and reducing improper use of data.

Read more of this The Hill op-ed by Susan E. Dudley and Daniel R. Pérez by clicking here.

Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

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