Congress Passes Evidence-Based Commission Act

Christina Pena
March 18, 2016

Congress passed the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016 yesterday. The legislation, which received wide bipartisan support, would establish a Commission to make recommendations on government data that may be used to evaluate federal programs and the spending of public dollars.

Originally co-authored by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the Act would require a 15-member expert Commission to conduct a comprehensive study on federal data inventory and infrastructure, as well as statistical protocols related to federal policymaking.

The Commission’s study would address how to improve the integration of data being collected by different federal agencies, including information about federal program participants and tax expenditures. The findings would help to inform how the federal government can make the most of information already available for program evaluation and improvement, while ensuring confidentiality and protecting privacy.

The Commission could make recommendations in some detail, including on the possible modification of data infrastructure and how best to incorporate information into program design. The Act also requires the Commission to consider whether a clearinghouse for program and survey data should be established, and if so, how it should be created and who may access it.

The following federal agencies would be required to advise and consult with the Commission: Bureau of the Census; Internal Revenue Service; the Social Security Administration; the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Education, and Justice; the Office of Management and Budget; the Bureau of Economic Analysis; and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In particular, the bill directs Census to provide administrative support for the Commission. Bill language prohibits appropriations of additional funding for Commission activities, but allows the transfer of up to $3 million in existing funds from other federal statistical agencies to Census for this work.

If the Commission arrives at an agreement, it would submit to the President and Congress a statement on its findings and policy recommendations. The Commission would end 18 months after the law is enacted.

The final bill (H.R. 1831) now goes to the President for signature.

March 30, 2016 update: the President signed this bill into law.