Commission Envisions More Policy Decisions Based on Data

Published: September 14, 2017

Policy and Legislation

Last week the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking released a lengthy report on their vision and recommendations for creating a government framework and infrastructure for data-driven federal policy decisions.

The 15-member commission was formed last year as a result of the enactment of the bipartisan Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016. “The Commission envisions a future in which rigorous evidence is created efficiently, as a routine part of government operations, and used to construct effective public policy,” according to the report cover letter.

The commission asserts that “advances in technology and statistical methodology, coupled with a modern legal framework and a commitment to transparency, make it possible to do this while simultaneously providing stronger protections for the privacy and confidentiality of the people, businesses, and organizations from which the government collects information.”

The report details 22 recommendations which are broadly grouped into the following categories:

  • Improving Secure, Private, and Confidential Data Access
  • Modernizing Privacy Protections for Evidence Building
  • Implementing the National Secure Data Service
  • Strengthening Federal Evidence-Building Capacity

Some of the most notable recommendations include establishing a National Secure Data Service as part of the Department of Commerce, adopting modern privacy-enhancing technologies, and building on the infrastructure and expertise already existing in government.

A National Secure Data Service (NSDS) would “facilitate access to data for evidence building while ensuring privacy and transparency in how those data are used.” The NSDS would be a state-of-the-art resource that would create temporary linkages for existing data throughout the government to perform statistical analysis for approved projects.  The NSDS would draw on existing government expertise and infrastructure, especially at the Census Bureau, to build adequate capacity for secure record linkages and data access, according to the report.

The report offers case studies and examples related to the recommendations, such as a profile on Canada’s policy, administered by the Statistics Canada agency, which protects privacy and provides transparency on the use and linkage of its administrative data about Canadians.

According to the commission, the greatest challenges for evidence building today in the federal government are limited data access, inadequate privacy-protection practices, and insufficient capacity to generate needed evidence.

However, 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.