peopleimages /

To Achieve Racial Equity, the Biden Administration Should Put Data First

We need high-quality, publicly accessible data to identify and analyze racial inequities, develop solutions, and track progress.

President Biden has committed to making racial equity one of the pillars of his Build Back Better agenda. He has moved quickly to advance this vision, issuing Executive Orders to address discriminatory housing practices, eliminate federal private prisons, and advance racial equity in underserved communities. Now, his administration must build up a critical resource for social progress: high-quality, publicly accessible data. We need more and better data to identify and analyze racial inequities, develop solutions, and track progress. 

The president has taken a big step by establishing an Equitable Data Working Group to improve federal data programs in order to “measure equity and capture the diversity of the American people.” To be effective, this high-level working group must serve local communities, advocates, state and local governments, and other stakeholders. Our organization, the nonprofit Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE), is now launching a project, Open Data for Racial Equity, to find ways the federal government can partner with groups outside of government to develop data-driven solutions. To make such solutions possible, the Biden administration should address these data priorities in five critical areas: 

Criminal justice. The national movement for police reform underscores the lack of transparent policing data. CODE’s new Briefing Paper on Policing Data highlights needs and opportunities to improve data on officer-involved shootings, complaints against officers, and more. The Biden administration should address these needs and can also reinvigorate the Police Data Initiative, which was launched under President Obama to promote public data from local law enforcement agencies. 

Healthcare access. The huge disparities in the risk of severe COVID-19 infection and death underscore the need for racial equity in healthcare. Studies of the impact of social determinants of health (SDOH), including a recent CODE project with the Health and Human Services Department, show that poor healthcare access is one of many factors that put Black and brown Americans at higher risk. We need better data on the social determinants of health, better data on COVID-19, and better analyses using SDOH data to fight the pandemic in minority communities. 

Environmental justice. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards, from sea-level rise to air pollution. While the EPA continues to release datasets on air quality and through the Toxics Release Inventory program, it has a long way to go to properly implement its environmental justice program and achieve “fair treatment and meaningful involvement.” President Biden’s Executive Order to address the climate crisis moves in the right direction by establishing an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity. Building on data-driven programs like the Environmental Justice and Mapping Tool, which has not been updated recently, would also provide important resources for action at the local level. 

Fair housing. Open data on unfair housing practices has been a tool to fight racial discrimination for decades and remains critical to ensuring Black Americans can live in thriving neighborhoods. The Trump administration repealed 2015 HUD regulations that implemented statutory obligations to “affirmatively further fair housing,” decreasing the amount of data local communities are required to submit to HUD. The Biden administration should reverse that decision and recommit to applying data for equitable 

housing. In addition, the administration can use data provided under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, which requires financial institutions to maintain, report, and publicly disclose loan-level information on mortgages. 

Workforce opportunity. Access to good jobs, and the education and training to qualify for them, are keys to reducing racial economic disparities. We need better data, and better data standards, to ensure that workers can access training that matches employers’ needs. This is particularly important for Black and Hispanic students, who are less likely than whites to graduate from four-year colleges. The Education Department can make data on scholarship opportunities more available, while the Labor Department can accelerate efforts to update descriptions of job categories on O*NET, the government’s Occupational Information Network. Finally, the Federal government can work with businesses and state governments to collect better earnings and employment data to shed light on pay, promotion, hiring practices, and workforce composition. 

The federal government should develop better data for racial equity across the board, and work with the growing community of data users and providers on data-driven solutions. The Biden administration has a historic opportunity to correct racial inequities in America. To address this centuries-old problem, they need to work with key stakeholders to apply the most modern policy tools: open data, analytics, and data-driven policymaking. 

Temilola Afolabi, Research Associate, and Paul Kuhne, Roundtables Program Manager, lead the Open Data for Racial Equity program at the Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE). CODE welcomes inquiries and opportunities to collaborate. Please contact Ms. Afolabi at