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Trump Signs Legislation Promoting Evidence-Based Policymaking


This post was updated on Jan. 15, 2019.

President Donald Trump has signed legislation designed to promote the better use of federal data, research, and evaluations when policy is being made.

The president signed the Foundations for Evidenced-Based Policymaking Act of 2017 on Monday, according to a White House press release. Federal lawmakers sent the bill to the president in late December. The legislation would require each federal agency to set up a chief data officer, who would be responsible for managing the agency's data assets and promoting how best to use them. It would also require federal agencies to look at how to enhance data privacy, including when personally identifiable information is involved. 

Our colleague Sarah D. Sparks wrote about the bill when it was first introduced in September 2017. In addition, the newly signed legislation generally encourages federal data to be made more readily available. 

The House version of the legislation was written by former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and its sister bill in the Senate was written by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate education committee. It piggybacked on work completed by the Commission for Evidenced-Based Policymaking, a bipartisan group that issued recommendations for collecting and using federal data that were also released in September 2017. 

"By ensuring that each federal agency has an evaluation officer, an evaluation policy and evidence-building plans, we can maximize the impact of public investments," Results for America, a nonprofit group that has helped state and local leaders implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, said in a statement after Congress passed the bill

And the Bipartisan Policy Center says that, among other notable impacts, the law "reduces [the] burden on researchers for applying to access to  government data by establishing a common application system for qualified individuals to access restricted, confidential data for approved projects."

The new law might not cause big changes at the U.S. Department of Education, which is relatively advanced on these issues, said Michele McLaughlin, the president of the Knowledge Alliance, a lobbying coalition for the education research community. But she said it might help bring transparency when it comes to the department's evaluation efforts. 

However, writing at Townhall.com, a conservative news website, Karen Effrem, the president of Education Liberty Watch (which promotes "limited government" and "the primacy of parental rights"), said before Trump signed it that the legislation amounted to "stealing the privacy of ordinary citizens." 

As Sarah pointed out when Ryan and Murray introduced the bill, the law addresses issues adjacent to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which is designed to safeguard student data. FERPA hasn't been reauthorized since it was signed into law in 1974. The education community is watching to see if that changes in the next Congress, particularly since Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee, will retire after the end of his term in two years and might be looking to shepherd at least one more big education bill through Congress. 

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