Commission Releases Data/Evidence Recommendations

Christina Pena
September 7, 2017

The Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking released its strategy today for increasing the availability and use of data to build evidence about government programs. The bipartisan panel’s recommendations emphasize the importance of workforce data, but stop short of recommending a federal data clearinghouse. The Commission focuses on making data available for statistical research, rather than providing information to varied stakeholders like students, job seekers, and program managers.

In their report, Commissioners recommended the creation of a National Secure Data Service (NSDS) to be located at the U.S. Department of Commerce, which has a history of securely managing statistical information through the Census Bureau. The NSDS would allow for combining data from different federal agencies within a secure environment without establishing a clearinghouse that stores linked data. Data would be combined for specific approved projects.

The Commission made several other recommendations pertinent to workforce data, which WDQC addressed in sections of its submission to the Commission last November.

  • Improve use of wage records, especially to inform programs that receive federal funding. The Commission recommends that federal leaders make statutory and administrative changes to ensure that state-collected data on quarterly earnings are available for research. They offer several options, including access to the National Directory of New Hires, or to wage records maintained by the Longitudinal Employer Household Dynamics (LEHD) program as part of the U.S. Census Bureau. Alternatively, the U.S. Department of Labor could create a national Unemployment Insurance (UI) quarterly earnings data system. Although the report identifies options, it does not recommend a particular strategy.
  • Change legal and administrative barriers, such as legislative prohibitions on a national student record system and the ban on a national database under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. WDQC and colleague organizations sent a letter to Commissioners to highlight the benefits of lifting the ban on student level data.  Although the Commission did not explicitly call for Congress to overturn these bans, they stated that “bans on data collection and use create a serious impediment to evidence-based policymaking, and could make it difficult or impossible to hold government activity accountable.” The Commission goes on to encourage lawmakers “to develop reasonable criteria to help ensure that legislators have the tools and the opportunity to carefully weigh the implications of significant bans.”
  • Strengthen privacy and security practices, including implementation of department-led risk assessments, newer technology, and enhanced transparency about data collection and use. The Commissioners call for the NSDS to “take privacy to a new level by applying state-of-the-art protections and ensuring that, at every step, the American public is notified about the uses of data to hold government accountable on a project-by-project basis.”
  • Provide adequate resources for federal data infrastructure. The Commission acknowledges that federal agencies have varied capacity to manage and use data, and encourages funding to build capacity and establish a high-quality NSDS.

Created by legislation originally co-authored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the Commission drew on governmental, legal, academic, and technical experience to conduct a comprehensive examination of federal data inventory and infrastructure, as well as statistical protocols related to federal policymaking. Since Commissioners began their work a little over a year ago, WDQC and colleague organizations joined together to influence their examination by raising issues critical to improving information relevant to the workforce and testifying before the Commission.

WDQC will continue analyzing the Commission’s recommendations, and determining how they can best be used to advocate for data linkages that provide actionable information for workers, jobseekers, students, businesses, and educators. We congratulate the Commissioners and their staff, and look forward to building upon their findings in order to strengthen workforce information.