House Passes Bipartisan Evidence-Based Policymaking Bill

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the Senate should act quickly on the measure. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the Senate should act quickly on the measure. Andrew Harnik/AP

The House on Wednesday voted unanimously to pass an amended Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (H.R. 4174)  to require agencies to more systematically assemble data for their decision makers before evaluating programs.

The bipartisan bill based on a congressionally chartered commission’s recommendations would require creation of a secure national inventory to share privacy-protected data among agencies, researchers and the public. Agencies would also appoint chief evaluation officers.

“We are requiring federal agencies to prioritize evidence when measuring a program’s success,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who has championed the bill since the last Congress with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “Take poverty. Instead of measuring success based on inputs, on how much money we spend, let’s measure success by outputs, by outcomes. Is it working? Are people getting out of poverty?” he said. “By directing agencies to do this, no longer will ‘we don’t know’ be an acceptable answer when asked if a program is working.”

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But a different justification came during floor debate from Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J. “The goal of this bill is to ensure that Congress and the executive branch are able to make important policy decisions based on evidence,” she said. “This is not always the case. For example, take the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. Funding for that program was recently cut even though there is significant evidence that it works well. If we are going to demand more and higher quality evidence from these federal agencies, it is imperative that Congress and the executive branch advance policies supported by that evidence.”

report released Sept. 7 by the 15-member panel of scholars and experienced agency executives included 22 recommendations for freeing up interagency data for use in enhancing program evaluations in health care, education and crime prevention, for example, while also protecting against security breaches.

Bill co-sponsor Murray urged the Senate to take up the measure. “This bill is an important first step toward our shared goal of making the most efficient use of taxpayer resources and protecting the investments we’ve made in our communities,” she said in a statement. “Now it’s time for the Senate to act on this legislation to make sure federal policies are driven by data, based on evidence, and responsive to the needs of families and communities in Washington State and around the country.”

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