Congress

Data-driven policy bill stalls in the Senate

Shutterstock ID: 116697148 By extradeda 

In November 2017, House Speaker Paul Ryan put his weight behind a bill to support evidence-based policymaking. The measure included provisions requiring agencies to appoint chief data officers and to simply expand data access.

The bill passed the House but has since languished in the Senate.

Even without a congressional stamp of approval, "plenty of this could be happening today," said John Righter, deputy staff director for Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), an original sponsor of the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act.

"As most things, this comes down to an issue of leadership," he said at an Association of Government Accountants event May 1.

Righter added that privacy issues are an obstacle to passing the bill.

"Our hope had been we would've been done as part of the omnibus," he said. The bill could still make it through Congress as part of another must-pass legislative vehicle.

For implementation, "the resources actually have to be available to do all this work — this is both people and dollars," said Nick Hart, director of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Additionally, getting the White House budget office on board is "critical" to "driving whatever agenda it is you're pursing," said Robert Shea, a principal at Grant Thornton. "Detachment from them almost guarantees failure," added Shea, who was Office of Management and Budget associate director for administration and government performance under President George W. Bush.

While greater use of evidence in policymaking has been pushed in past administrations as well, OMB associate director Peter Warren noted "what's different this time" is that "one of the core three planks" of the President's Management Agenda is data.

Nancy Potok, chief statistician of the United States, said she and federal CIO Suzette Kent have started to work on a federal data strategy, as laid out in the management agenda, but declared it too early to identify specific goals.

At the same time, however, the administration has come under scrutiny for making government data more difficult to access and not prioritizing open data.

The Trump administration has pushed for evidence-based policymaking in the agency reorganizations process. However, in the fiscal year 2018 omnibus, lawmakers raised concerns about the information and justifications about what goals the administration's reorganization efforts intend to address.

As a result, Shea said some of the major reorg plans — such as moving big grants or other programs to entirely different departments — are unlikely.

Instead, the agency reorganizations will probably be confined to some consolidation of offices here and there and shrinking the workforce through attrition, he said. And if congressional control flips in November, Shea added, the chances of achieving even those changes would be "greatly diminished."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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