Trump Team’s Evidence-Based Policy Efforts Lauded by Nonprofit Partner

OMB's guidance on foreign aid cited as model for agency implementation.

The nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center, which inherited the tasks of the expired congressionally appointed Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, is expressing optimism that the Trump administration is taking the approach seriously.

Congress is moving forward on legislation implementing 10 of the commission’s 22 recommendations laid out last fall, and agencies are conducting “extensive discussions,” the group’s staff said in blogposts and a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

“There is genuine interest” at agencies such as the departments of Veterans Affairs, State, Health and Human Services, Education and Labor, said Nick Hart, formerly the commission’s research director who is now in charge of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative. That group includes the commission’s former members. Agencies and “coordinating bodies” such as the Office of Management and Budget and the Council of Economic Advisers are “beginning to take steps to prioritize” actions, he said.

Hart called the bill the House passed in November, and for which senators are seeking a vehicle this year, “a really good start.” The bill—which addresses such concerns as privacy risks and the need to streamline data sharing—does not include the key recommendation of creating a National Secure Data Center. Hart said the bill will not solve all problems or fully steer the agencies, but will “establish the mechanisms.” It shows that Congress is “having that conversation,” Hart added.

The bill is endorsed by more than 100 organizations, from the American Statistical Association to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, he noted. Last week, 36 experts, including seven former Census Bureau directors, seven former commissioners of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and two former chief U.S. statisticians, wrote to Congress to press the bill.

“When the commission’s recommendations are implemented, our country will have a stronger statistical system, data collected from the American public will be more strongly protected, and we will be able to generate more of the evidence demanded for informing important policy decisions,” they wrote. “Implementing the commission’s recommendations with appropriate resources will begin to tear down the existing barriers to generating evidence in a productive way, enabling the statistical system to do what it does best – provide reliable and valid data and statistics to the American public.”

The center also applauded the involvement of White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, noting a quiet piece of OMB guidance released on Jan. 11 designed to better evaluate the effectiveness of foreign aid. Required by legislation enacted under President Obama, the guidance calls for agencies to consider seven principles for monitoring and evaluation, the center noted, “(1) designed and timed for use, (2) application of best methods available, (3) practical and efficiency, (4) planned early in project timelines, (5) sufficiently resourced, (6) conducted ethically, and (7) shared transparently. The guidelines further specify that evaluations should be impartial, unbiased, relevant, participatory, shared widely, credible, and collaborative.”

OMB’s foreign aid “guidelines represent a major positive indication from the Trump administration about its support for the generation and use of evidence to inform program implementation,” the center wrote, noting backing from the nonprofit Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.

Hart said he expects more involvement from OMB staffers such as Dustin Brown, deputy assistant director for management, in the coming release of the fiscal 2019 budget and presidential management plans.