Continued Emphasis on Data and Science by the Biden Administration

Published: February 10, 2021

Federal Market AnalysisAdministration TransitionBig DataPolicy and Legislation

The administration’s recent memorandum for scientific integrity and evidence-based policymaking reveals Biden’s continued reliance on data in the new government.

Key Takeaways:

  • Data continues to be an underlying current in the Biden administration’s approach to managing the health supply chain, reopening of schools and other issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.  
  • The recent scientific integrity and evidence-based policymaking memorandum aims to abolish political influence over federal science and research activities, placing heavier reliance on data to drive critical decisions.
  • The new memorandum continues the progress under the Federal Data Strategy’s 2020 Action Plan, including resources and collaboration for evidence building.

A few weeks ago, I outlined several ways the new Biden administration is utilizing big data as a primary component in its approach to the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, as the primary form of public communication, streamlining federal metrics, managing the health supply chain, and even in aiding with the reopening of schools across the country.

The new administration took an additional step to emphasize data’s critical role in pursuing national priorities with the issuance of the Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking.

The purpose of the memorandum is to ensure federal agencies develop and apply, “scientific-integrity policies that ban improper political interference in the conduct of scientific research and in the collection of scientific or technological data, and that prevent the suppression or distortion of scientific or technological findings, data, information, conclusions, or technical results.”

In particular, the memorandum calls for the formation of a Task Force on Scientific Integrity under the National Science and Technology Council to review federal scientific-integrity policies, thwart out improper political interferences since 2017, develop a framework for regular assessment of integrity policies, and publish policies and reporting on OSTP’s website. The memorandum holds federal agencies responsible for developing or refining scientific-integrity policies, and for educating its employees and contractors on their rights and responsibilities surrounding scientific integrity.

The memorandum also expedites many of the provisions under the Evidence Act, including:

  • Directing OMB to issue guidance to improve agencies’ evidence-building plans and annual evaluations within 120 days of the memorandum
  • Calling on the Chief Data Officers (CDO) Council to incorporate scientific-integrity principles consistent with the memorandum to establish government-wide best practices in the use, dissemination and generation of data
    • The CDO Council and the Evaluation Office Council will identify ways agencies can improve evidence production for policymaking
  • Expanding open and secure access to federal data collected for federal, state, local, tribal and territorial government programs (i.e. tax data, vital records, SSA earnings and employment reports)
    • Instructs that this data be available by default in a machine-readable format that protects privacy and confidentiality
    • Requires agencies to publish data plans providing a consistent framework for data stewardship, use and access

While much of the memorandum’s requirements are not new or earth shattering, the top-down directive is important in expediting and expanding approaches already in place for evidence-based policymaking. One such approach is the Federal Data Strategy’s 2020 Action Plan.

According to the action plan’s latest progress report, approaches are underway to develop agency best practices to apply administrative or programmatic data for evidence building, particularly for the scientific and research communities. Action 17 of the plan reflects much of the same language as the memorandum in standing up best practices for the generation, use, protection and dissemination of data towards evidence making. The progress report reveals milestones under Action 17 as completed, with a webpage set up as a one-stop repository for use cases, playbooks and proof points for evidence building. Additionally, the CDO Council developed resources to share content and experiences for evidence-based decisions, which helped support agency responses to COVID-19. Moreover, Action 16 of the plan calls for research agencies to develop a standard approach in setting consistent access protocols, a goal that the progress report reflects as completed.

As the Biden administration continues to settle in, it is clear that the perception of data and its critical role in federal operations and programs will continue to grow under the new president as well. Contractors must remain alert to the directives issued by the new administration, ready to pivot data and analytical solutions and services to meet current and upcoming priorities.