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House Oversight Committee Moves Bill to Promote Evidence-Based Policymaking

The House committee on government oversight voted Thursday to move forward with a bill to promote better use of federal data, research, and evaluations in making policy, following on recommendations from the bipartisan Commission for Evidence-Based Policymaking, a Congressional panel tasked with identifying ways to improve federal data collection and use.

The last attempt to push a bipartisan bill on research and data in education policy—the Education Sciences Reform Act—stalled out over and over in the last several years, but the broader "Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017" has some heavy hitters behind it that make it likelier to move. The House version was introduced by Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and co-sponsored by House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. Its sister bill in the upper chamber was introduced by Sen. Patty Murray, D.-Wash. and co-sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. 

The bill would require each federal agency to create a "chief data officer" tasked with developing an inventory and catalogue of all the data it collects, and a "chief evaluation officer" intended to coordinate ways to use the agency's and other data to build evidence for better policies and programs.

By February of each year, each agency would also have to submit a plan of how it will build evidence for better policies in the coming year, which would then be approved and coordinated across agencies by the Office of Management and Budget. The plans would include:

  • Specific policy questions for which the agency wants to build evidence;
  • What data the agency plans to collect, use, or acquire; 
  • What research methods it plans to use to analyze the data; and 
  • What challenges it faces, such as regulatory restrictions, to getting, sharing, or using the data.

Of particular interest to education researchers and advocates, the bill also strongly encourages federal data to be made available, while protecting individual privacy. Besides ensuring that all public data is in a machine-readable format, it would also require agencies to give the public more opportunities to request certain data to be prioritized for release (Civil Rights Data Collection, anyone?) and to hold data "challenges, competitions, ... and other events" to encourage members of the public to use federal data in new and interesting ways.

"We believe the Ryan-Murray legislation would help make our government more effective and efficient by building evidence about the practices, policies, and programs that will achieve the most effective and efficient results," said Michele Jolin, co-founder of the research advocacy group Results for America, in a statement. 

It will be interesting to see whether the evidence-based policy bill develops real traction in Congress, particularly as education watchers also await Congressional action to reauthorize the long-overdue Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which helps safeguard students' privacy with regard to data collection. The full House oversight committee approved the bill by voice; you can watch the discussion of the bill at the start of the committee meeting:


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