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  • May 28, 2020 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

    A modified proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science" misses key opportunities to improve open data and evidence-building activities at the agency. The proposal, if implemented as drafted, could place restrictions on what studies and data the agency can consider when making decisions. 

    While EPA officials suggest the proposed rule promotes science and data transparency, experts outside EPA are concerned this new rule could limit the agency’s use of evidence when setting policy. Data Coalition CEO Nick Hart submitted comments on this proposed rule, outlining shortcomings in the proposal while also offering options that further the agency’s open data and open science capabilities.  

    As a longstanding leader in advancing transparency and evidence-based policymaking among federal agencies, EPA’s proposal omits opportunities to take advantage of new legal authorities established in the bipartisan Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act

    In order to build transparency and improve data access, government agencies, including EPA, must undertake a multi-pronged approach that builds a culture of openness, with appropriate privacy protections. In the near-term, EPA should focus on its obligations under the Evidence Act, such as strengthening EPA’s learning culture, improve its data governance, enhance EPA’s policy analysis and evaluation function, and bolster public trust. 

    More specifically,  EPA should consider advancing bipartisan solutions that support meaningful transparency, including to

    • Establish and Sufficiently Resource a Legally-Recognized Statistical Unit 
    • Establish or Identify a Partnership for a Secure Data Enclave 
    • Support International Environmental Systematic-Review Processes
    • Establish an Advisory Body for Evidence-Building Activities.

    Further details about each of these options, and other ideas, are offered in Nick Hart’s detailed written comments to EPA. 

    The Data Coalition strongly supports EPA’s efforts to promote open data and open science, when such efforts ensure the agency can promote meaningful transparency and continue to use the best scientific information available. The Data Coalition will be monitoring EPA’s progress on implementing the Evidence Act and realizing the promise of using high-quality data to support agency decision-making.  


  • May 04, 2020 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

    The Census Bureau is now collecting new data to measure how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting U.S. households. Two new surveys, one aimed at households and the other at business, will begin to measure how the pandemic is affecting individuals and businesses during the pandemic. 

    The Household Pulse Survey will be sent to approximately 14 million people via email compiled from commercial sources. The questionnaire is a collaboration of multiple federal statistical agencies. The survey covers a range of questions that may directly inform future policy debates, such as food security, housing security, and economic anxiety. The Small Business Pulse Survey will sample approximately one million small businesses across the country to provide additional insights from establishments about economic effects. 

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics is also expanding its data collections, with support from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau,  by adding five COVID-related questions to the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) through October 2020. These data will be tied to the key measures produced by the CPS, including the national unemployment and the labor force participation rate.

    The efforts underway in the federal statistical system are encouraging steps forward for producing the valid, reliable data needed to address many current challenges. Prioritizing high-quality data and a robust data infrastructure will bolster decision-makers’ capabilities to understand and address the current pandemic with sound policies. 

    The Data Coalition first encouraged Congress to support and fund the development of a large-scale, household survey on COVID-19 impacts in March. Rapidly launching new data collection endeavors is a colossal undertaking, particularly in the midst of an active emergency response. In fact, in order to get both the household and establishment surveys into the field as quickly as possible, the Census Bureau will be relying on email outreach, with email addresses purchased from commercial sources. This is a new outreach strategy for the Census Bureau, but shows how the agency is innovating and adapting while balancing the need for rigorous and careful statistical techniques. The results will be published under the Census Bureau’s experimental statistics program. 

    While government survey efforts are essential, philanthropic approaches like the COVID Impact Survey are also vital. The COVID Impact Survey, aims to answer important questions with timely national and regional statistics on physical health, mental health, economic security, and social dynamics in the United States. The large-scale effort using random sample survey techniques will complement and even supplement government data collections at a time when it’s critical for policymakers to have good information for determining future actions for stay-at-home orders, social distancing policies, and other actions to combat the effects of the virus. 

    Multiple projects like the COVID Impact Survey and the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse survey will work together to meet information needs, but responsible data collection will require significant and meaningful investment. The Data Coalition will continue to advocate for efforts to promote valid and reliable data about the challenges facing the country. 


  • April 01, 2020 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

    The largest economic stimulus package in U.S. history was enacted on March 27. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economy Security Act (CARES Act) provides economic relief for individuals, businesses, and industries affected by the pandemic. The $2 trillion package contains some key provisions for public data and evidence-building activities. 

    $500 million to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for Public Health Surveillance.

    In addition to its other core funding, the CDC will receive $500 million for public health surveillance and analytics infrastructure, providing more timely and accurate health data. In its open letter to Congress, the Data Coalition highlighted ways that the system for compiling national COVID-19 test data and relevant health data could be improved. Using existing data infrastructure, an improved reporting system with basic data standards could be implemented to ensure timely reporting of test results and relevant vital records.

    In addition to health surveillance, the National Center for Health Statistics, housed within the CDC, can improve capabilities in the Electronic Death Reporting System and work with states to improve their reporting capacity.

    Oversight Bodies

    The bill includes multiple bodies to provide oversight on the large sums of money spent in the bill. These oversight bodies will provide accountability and will help connect federal spending to outcomes.

    • Pandemic Response Accountability Committee
      The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) will be made up of independent Inspectors General (IG) who will conduct and coordinate audits and investigations to prevent and identify waste, fraud, and abuse under the CARES Act. The Committee will consist of 10 inspectors general from the Department of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, Labor and the Treasury, as well as the inspector general of the Small Business Administration and the Treasury’s Tax Administration. Glenn Fine, the acting IG for the Department of Defense, will chair the committee. PRAC was given an $80 million budget and will be required to make public reports through Oversight.gov on their findings and requires agencies to report information about spending under the bill. This structure closely mirrors the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board established by the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
    • Congressional Oversight Commission
      The Congressional Oversight Commission will consist of five members, appointed by Congressional leaders that have yet to be named. This Commission has the authority to conduct oversight of the stimulus package by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve and will have the ability to conduct hearings, take testimony and issue reports, the first one of which will be due 30 days after the Treasury disburses funds. The Commission will operate until the end of FY 2025.
    • Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery
      This new Special Inspector General will be established at the Treasury Department and have jurisdiction over audits and investigations by the Secretary of the Treasury under any CARES Act program. This new Special Inspector General will be able to refer matters to the Department of Justice for both criminal and civil investigations for the next five years.

    Supplemental Appropriations

    The CARES Act also provides $340 billion in emergency funding, the bulk of which will go directly to state and local governments. There are additional research funds for the National Institutes of Health ($945.5 million), the National Science Foundation ($76 million), Department of Energy ($99.5 million) and the Environmental Protection Agency ($7.2 million). The Data Coalition continues to push for funding to be used to implement key provisions of the Evidence Act. Statistical activities, data governance, and program evaluation are vital functions that must be successful across the government to understand the impacts of the policy decisions being made today.

      Our country will continue to need valid and reliable data not only about the challenges facing our workers, economy, and health but the effectiveness and efficiencies of our policy interventions. These oversight provisions and appropriations will help ensure that we have the best evidence possible for our policy decisions. 


    • March 26, 2020 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

      In a recent open letter to Congress, the Data Coalition outlined several actions that Congress could take to respond to the pandemic with data. One recommendation would direct agencies to track supplemental spending through USAspending.gov as the federal government is expected to inject unprecedented sums of money into the American economy. With such an influx of spending, accurate and reliable spending data are vital to ensure accountability, transparency, and meaningful evaluation. 

      In 2009, in the aftermath of the financial crisis the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (Recovery Act, PL 111–5), was passed, it included several oversight mechanisms, including oversight boards and a budget accounting framework that enabled tracking of federal funds that were allocated in supplemental appropriations. This was done in the spirit of transparency and accountability.

      Since then, there have been new bipartisan data laws passed to give the American public access to information on their tax dollars are being used, including the DATA Act (PL 113-101), and the recently passed GREAT Act (PL 116-103) 

      The DATA Act established government-wide data standards for financial data, simplified reporting, and holds agencies accountable for submitted data to USAspending.gov. Expanding on the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, the DATA Act: 

      • Established data standards
      • Simplified agency reporting
      • Improved data quality
      • Expanded accountability

      The recent GREAT Act accomplishes similar goals for reporting by grant recipients and those who have cooperative agreements. The law:

      • Enhances data quality with the adoption of data standards
      • improves accessibility to grantee audits;
      • establishes an expectation that agencies will promote and adopt new technological solutions to reduce grantee reporting burden and to improve oversight;
      • establishes infrastructure for publishing reports as open data, and  
      • mandates rapid implementation. 

      As with the Recovery Act of 2009, it will be important to know how effective interventions are in times of economic crisis. Thankfully, the groundwork laid by the implementation of the DATA Act and on-going implementation of the GREAT Act means that there are already mechanisms in place to help make government spending data open, reliable, accurate, and accessible. That is why the Data Coalition urges Congress to incorporate the existing frameworks of the DATA Act and GREAT Act into the stimulus packages to ensure American tax dollars are being used for the desired outcomes of society. 


    • March 23, 2020 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

      The following is a letter written by Data Coalition CEO Nick Hart to Members of Congress regarding COVID-19. The letter recommends the passage of high-priority federal data policies that would help address the ongoing pandemic and facilitate future innovation. A PDF version of the letter is available for download. 

      Members of Congress –

      During this unprecedented time in our country, the need for valid, reliable data about the challenges facing Americans is clear. The Data Coalition members strongly encourage our country’s elected leaders to ensure we are collecting the data and developing the evidence necessary to understand these challenges, while also planning for our country’s future policy needs. Enabling data access while protecting privacy is essential for accomplishing data-driven decision-making; fortunately, a set of bipartisan and well-vetted policy proposals can help address these challenges immediately.

      In late-2017 a bipartisan commission created by Congress and the President offered 22 clear recommendations about how to improve the country’s data infrastructure to support evidence-based policymaking. While the comprehensive Evidence Commission strategy was designed to work as an entire ecosystem, to date, Congress has only taken action on half of those recommendations. The coronavirus pandemic necessitates action on the remaining unanimous recommendations from the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking to ensure elected leaders have critical information to understand not just the full impacts of the virus long-term on our economy and population, but also to study and learn from the policies being implemented today to attempt to mitigate the pandemic’s effects. In addition to those suggestions, there are several common-sense, bipartisan policy ideas that can immediately improve our ability to measure long-term impacts.

      The Data Coalition is America’s premier voice on data policy, specifically advocating for data to be high-quality, accessible, and usable to improve our society. On behalf of the members of the Data Coalition – which include technology innovators, data analytics organizations, management consultancies, data vendors, and non-profit research organizations – we ask that Congress prioritize collection and management of high-quality data for addressing the pandemic. Prioritizing high-quality data and a robust data infrastructure will bolster our country’s capabilities to understand and address the current pandemic with sound policies, while also preparing for future crises in the years ahead.

      The Data Coalition’s suggestions include ideas that explicitly align with or are complimentary to the Evidence Commission’s unanimous recommendations. Each could also be considered to temporarily address major data issues. Legislative specifications for each are included as an attachment:

      • Rapidly Authorize and Launch a National Secure Data Service. The Evidence Commission identified a strategy for quickly developing a shared service center for government data linkage and analytical capabilities that would vastly expand the research community’s ability to produce statistical analyses for providing summary information about policy issues. While some work is underway to develop resource, Congress should act to establish the Data Service as quickly as possible enabling these data uses within a privacy-protective framework. The Data Service should be designated as a federal statistical agency and use the privacy framework reauthorized by Congress as part of the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2018 (CIPSEA; Title III of P.L. 115-435).
        Without this infrastructure in place, government will be unlikely to rapidly analyze and understand the data collected across federal agencies for assessing the full impact of government policies and interventions intended to address the coronavirus pandemic. A short-term authorization could get the infrastructure off the ground, and Congress could revisit the authorization following a “pilot” period to determine longer-term feasibility. Congress could even repurpose the long-delayed Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence-Building to provide transparency and advice as this work proceeds.
      • Expand Access to Income and Earnings Data for Research Activities. The Evidence Commission recognized a clear need for improved access to income and earnings data. This can immediately be accomplished in two ways using data already collected by government:
        • Improve Data Quality for the National Directory of New Hires and Expand Access to Include CIPSEA Agencies. With minor adjustments to federal law, approved researchers could have vastly improved, yet still restricted, access to existing data on wages and earnings. The Office of Child Support Enforcement at the department of Health and Human Services operates the National Directory of New Hires, created in the 1996 welfare reforms. This system is built on state-provided data. Enhancements to data access for research purposes within the CIPSEA privacy-framework paired with improvements to data quality, including increasing the periodicity of reporting and doubling the duration of data retention will vastly improve existing research capabilities. Notably, proposals to expand access to this system have previously been offered by the Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations in annual budget proposals to Congress.
        • Pass the Measuring Real Income Growth Act of 2019. An existing legislative proposal would improve the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ capabilities to use existing tax data for developing critical national economic indicators, such as the Gross Domestic Product. In addition to other useful provisions in the legislation, adjustments to 26 USC 6103(j) are especially timely for improving the quality of the country’s economic statistics using existing tax records.
      • Fund the Evidence Act Implementation with $50 million the FY 2020 Supplemental. Congress and the President should provide federal agencies at least $50 million to support implementation of existing data analytic functions created as part of the bipartisan Evidence Act, in a targeted way for supporting the pandemic response. While the Data Coalition is advocating for $125 million in FY 2021, there are limited resources in the current fiscal year. Congress should include additional appropriations in further supplemental spending packages for FY 2020. These resources to implement the Evidence Act would specifically support agencies in rapidly building the capacity and infrastructure to support statistical activities, data governance, and program evaluation. These three functions must be successful across government to truly understand the impacts of the policy decisions that are being made today, as well as to prospectively plan for future crises. This funding should also be flexible enough to support federal statistical agencies in unique challenges associated with collecting critical and relevant data to assess long-term outcomes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
      • Direct Agencies to Track Supplemental Spending through USAspending.gov. With the influx of federal appropriations to support rapid response to the pandemic, federal agencies need clear direction from Congress about the intent to not only rapidly allocate appropriated funds, but to also ensure for future transparency and accountability of that spending. Federal agencies and the Office of Management and Budget should be advised by Congress to ensure the budget accounting framework enables tracking of federal funds allocated in supplementals similar to the strategy used for the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, recognizing new requirements in place as part of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014.
      • Appropriate Funding to Support Development of a Household Survey on COVID-19 Impacts. In support of efforts underway in the private sector, Congress should immediately appropriate at least $20 million to support initial development and launch of a large-scale household survey to daily monitor the impacts of COVID-19 on the American population at least over the next 6 months, though such a survey would likely be useful for policymakers if continued for a much longer time period.
      • Improve System for Compiling National COVID-19 Test Data and Relevant Health Information. The limitations of the country’s existing health data infrastructure for monitoring COVID-19 are now abundantly clear, including the absence of a national health data exchange that encourages system interoperability and data sharing consistent with applicable federal laws. Using the existing infrastructure to rapidly shift for COVID-19 response, an improved reporting system with basic data standards could be implemented to ensure the capabilities exists for more timely reporting of test results and relevant vital records, along with capabilities to combine relevant information for improving predictive modeling and long-term analysis of impacts.Reporting of the CDC’s “Human Infection with 2019 Novel Coronavirus Person Under Investigation and Case Report Form” could be mandatory for states, rather than voluntary, with required data elements and electronic submission. These data could be made available in compliance with relevant federal privacy laws for restricted access research-purposes through existing privacy-protective protocols in place at the National Center for Health Statistics, a federal statistical agency, to support rapid modeling in partnership with experts outside government.Further, mortality reporting at NCHS will be critical in coming months. NCHS must rapidly enhance its capabilities for geocoding, natural language searching, and artificial intelligence as part of the Vital Statistics Reporting System to ensure COVID-19 information is captured adequately, and reporting periodicity from states must become near real-time rather than monthly.Building on existing partnerships with states, NCHS needs to improve capabilities to provide edits and data quality checks for the existing Electronic Death Reporting System in addition to developing a vastly improved capability for collecting electronic health records from medical facilities in the U.S. to support statistical activities and monitoring. Automating these reviews and providing the data within the CIPSEA privacy framework could rapidly bolster the capabilities. With improved data collection approaches, data scientists could more effectively develop artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms to predict severity of the outbreak or estimate potential future risks. A supplemental appropriation of $20 million would support rapid development and launch of such a system dedicated to more robust and timely analyses.
      • Temporarily Suspend the Student Unit Record Ban. A provision in federal law currently limits the ability of the federal government to collect data that could be useful for analyzing student outcomes in the contemporaneous environment, particularly in higher education institutions. Lifting the ban for statistical purposes under the CIPSEA privacy framework, even temporarily, would ensure policymakers have information available to understand the shift to a virtual educational environment and potential effects on student outcomes for future policy consideration.
      • Incorporate the Financial Transparency Act with 2020 Tax Credit for LEI Approval. The Financial Transparency Act takes steps to provide insights across the financial regulatory community with regard to the information available to the public about firms and subsidiaries. This bipartisan legislative proposal would apply expectations to use global data standards for vastly improving financial services data reporting, access, and use. It would also enable long-term benefits for improving the validity and reliability of Gross Domestic Product estimates, among other national economic indicators. Paired with a tax credit for entities to cover the cost of registering for a Legal Entity Identifier and submitting required information, the cost of implementation would be relatively low while the benefits vast in understanding our economy while reducing reporting burden on the private sector.

      Thank you for your consideration of these critical data priorities as our country and partners around the world work to collectively address the coronavirus pandemic. We recognize the magnitude of the challenge before you and hope these suggestions will support your need for reliable information in the months and years ahead. For immediate assistance, please contact me or the Data Coalition’s policy manager, Corinna Turbes (corinna.turbes@datacoalition.org).

      Respectfully,

      Nick Hart, Ph.D.

      CEO, Data Coalition


    • February 11, 2020 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

      The release of the President’s annual budget proposal offers insights into upcoming priorities and initiatives across the federal government. The Trump Administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal offers some perspectives about plans for implementing new data and evidence projects across government. This is the first full budget since enactment of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act), including the OPEN Government Data Act, and the final Federal Data Strategy, so it is the first opportunity for agencies to appeal to Congress for support through new authority and resources.  

      Here are six key take-aways from the data and evidence priorities in the 2021 budget proposal:

      #1: Evidence Act Implementation is Shifting from OMB to Agencies 

      More than one year after enactment of the Evidence Act and with the first annual action plan issued by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), agencies are now expected to begin rapid implementation of core data and evidence obligations. The budget signals a new focus on tangible projects happening across agencies covering issues as wide-ranging as new program evaluations to open data planning and development of agency data inventories. 

      While OMB is expected to issue additional guidance in 2020 and develop a second-year action plan as part of the Federal Data Strategy, the budget proposal highlights that planned improvements are no longer just plans, but that real actions are underway. For example, the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Office of Evaluation Sciences recognized its role in supporting new agency evaluation officers in developing learning agendas, and is restructuring some of its activities to plan accordingly. 

      #2: Many Agencies are Making Progress in Prioritizing Evidence Act Implementation  

      The Evidence Act requires agencies to undertake a wide range of activities, further elaborated on in the Federal Data Strategy. Even before complete guidance is available from OMB, multiple agencies demonstrate rapid progress implementing the Evidence Act with explanations in budget justifications. For example, the Treasury Department included descriptions of available evidence and analytical projects for every bureau in the congressional justification, some with insightful projects. Other agencies describe new organizational processes and structures for ensuring data leaders receive sufficient support and empowerment. The Departments of Commerce and Education provide extensive details about the roles and organization of new chief data officers in supporting data governance boards and management activities. 

      #3: Agencies are Offering Realistic Assessments of Resource Needs

      Some agencies appear to be forward-leaning with requests for additional resources, reallocations of existing resources, or flexible funding mechanisms to support data and evidence priorities. The Environmental Protection Agency requests funds for a new centralized evaluation unit, GSA requested additional resources to support the Chief Data Officer Council, and the Department of Labor requested flexibility in using funds for evaluation activities, to name a few. By identifying funding flexibilities and reallocations, agencies ease the burden on appropriators to identify new financial streams within top-line budget levels to support these initiatives, also suggesting increased likelihood of receiving the funding. 

      #4: Secure Data Sharing and Access Receive Substantial, Positive Attention

      Buried in the details of agency budget requests are several proposals that suggest continued progress in implementing the unanimous, bipartisan recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and Census Bureau propose to create a federal data service, similar to the National Secure Data Service, initially proposed by the Evidence Commission. 

      The Department of Health and Human Services proposes increasing access to wage and earnings data maintained in the National Directory of New Hires for targeted purposes, including to support improved government decision-making. Another proposal that is revived in the budget request is the idea to combine agencies that disseminate federal economic statistics. Collectively these proposals, among others, suggest a clear focus on maintaining bipartisan momentum for responsible data sharing across government. 

      #5: Artificial Intelligence Funding Presents Data Opportunities

      The administration proposes to increase spending on artificial intelligence (AI) research and development activities in 2021, doubling current investments in preparation for building “industries of the future.” In practice, major investments that support AI also offer benefits to core data infrastructure and management across government agencies. New resources at the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, and Energy, could further promote rapid development of AI capabilities in government with benefits to policymakers, the economy, and the American public. 

      #6 Data Literacy, Training, and Skilling Recognized as a Critical Need

      The budget proposal recognizes a detail often lost in dialogues about data capabilities in government: the federal workforce. Government workers need constant training and re-skilling to support emerging needs in data science, analytics, even privacy protections as technologies and methods evolve. To support the training and reskilling efforts, the budget includes a request for new funding to support diversity and highly-skilled workers for AI, data analysis, and other emerging needs. 

      Gaps and Missed Opportunities 

      There is always room for critique of the budget, and not all agencies provide clarity about the role of chief data officers, the value of evaluation, or even signal the prioritization of Evidence Act implementation. There are also challenges for the top-line messaging from the administration, including overall funding levels and removal of long-standing data, statistical, and performance chapters summarizing activities in the Analytical Perspectives Volume.

      Importantly, the Trump budget proposal is a starting point for 2021 appropriations and Congress will still make numerous changes before final funding levels are established. Even for those that may disagree with the top-line spending levels or macro-policy choices, when it comes to the data and evidence priorities, there is much to applaud and support as the proposal is considered by Congress in coming months. 


    • January 14, 2020 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

      One year ago today, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act) became law.  Building on the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, the Evidence Act, and complementary guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget on federal data policy, work is well underway to create a growing appetite for research evidence within the federal government’s Executive Branch agencies. These efforts also aim to reduce some of the hurdles to the use of government data across agencies, between government agencies, and with the external research community, where much of the relevant evidence is generated.

      I am Dean of a school populated by faculty who conduct policy research using such government data and teach students who will graduate and staff many federal agencies. How should our role, as external researchers and educators, be affected by implementation of the Evidence Act? One way that we can help with implementation is to focus on… implementation.

      Executive agencies spend most of their time implementing policies legislated by Congress. This implementation process is wide-ranging – from decisions as visible and charged as changing fuel economy requirements for automobiles to nearly invisibly and apparently innocuous choices like how to arrange the paragraphs in an informational letter to welfare program recipients to promote effective use of benefits. Researchers outside government, however, often have access to information about decision-making and relevant data only at the legislative policy level. Their research, therefore, tends to evaluate the impact of an overall policy decision, rather than the nuances of its implementation.  

      One promising outgrowth of the Evidence Act is to narrow this mismatch. Agency learning agendas, mandated by the new law, can inform researchers of potentially compelling implementation choices at the agency level. Improved access to administrative data can give researchers the granularity of information needed to assess such decisions. As a corollary benefit, if external researchers focus attention in areas where agencies really need their insight, they can build partnerships with agency staff that enable them to use agency data to better inform analyses at the policy level as well.

      The potential for this kind of synergy – simultaneously informing agency micro-implementation decisions and generating broad new knowledge – struck me in reading a recent study in my own area of health policy research. In 2015, some 6.1 million U.S. tax returns were subject to individual mandate penalties because some people on the return had failed to obtain health insurance. The Treasury Department was interested in learning about the best ways to design outreach letters encouraging those in this group to buy coverage in 2017 – a typical agency micro-implementation decision. In this case, though, there wasn’t enough funding available to conduct outreach to all eligible returns. Ithai Lurie and Janet McCubbin of the Treasury Department, together with Jacob Goldin, a Stanford Law Professor, designed an experiment in which they randomly assigned returns to one of several outreach letter formats or to a control group that did not receive an outreach letter at all. Then they used Treasury Department data on 2017 returns to see which of their outreach strategies worked best to encourage health insurance take-up in 2017.  

      But the team didn’t stop there. They merged the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data with the Social Security death file, to see whether changes in the take-up of health insurance induced by their experiment affected mortality outcomes. That is, they built on their implementation research to evaluate the effects of the underlying program itself. Goldin, Lurie, and McCubbin found that the additional coverage induced by their more effective intervention letters actually reduced mortality among middle-aged adults over a two-year follow-up period.

      The Goldin, Lurie, and McCubbin study is a great illustration of rigorous evidence development on implementation effectiveness. It’s also the first large-scale experimental study to show that health insurance reduces mortality.  And it couldn’t have happened without collaboration between external researchers and agency staff, and without access to large-scale administrative data.

      There are lessons in that collaboration for us as educators as well. We need to encourage our faculty to examine agency learning agendas, to put our insights to work where they are most needed. We need to educate our students — future agency staffers — about the value of data and about the array of approaches and perspectives available in the external research community, so that they actively welcome and seek out research partners.  

      Finally, as external researchers, we should take the same approach to the Evidence Act as we would to other important federal legislation – evaluate it! At this stage, the right focus is on evaluating the implementation choices made at the agency level, so that we develop an evidence base to make better use of evidence in policymaking.

      As agencies proceed in implementing the Evidence Act during its second year, there is much promise for changing the relationship between the government and research community for the better. Success will require strong collaborations and partnerships, promising tremendous gains for producing and using meaningful evidence in coming years.  

       

       

      About the Author:

      In 2013, Sherry Glied was named Dean of New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. From 1989-2013, she was Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She was Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management from 1998-2009. On June 22, 2010, Glied was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services, and served in that capacity from July 2010 through August 2012. She had previously served as Senior Economist for health care and labor market policy on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers in 1992-1993, under Presidents Bush and Clinton, and participated in the Clinton Health Care Task Force. She has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Social Insurance, and served as a member of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking.

      Glied’s principal areas of research are in health policy reform and mental health care policy. Her book on health care reform, Chronic Condition, was published by Harvard University Press in January 1998. Her book with Richard Frank, Better But Not Well: Mental Health Policy in the U.S. since 1950, was published by The Johns Hopkins University Press in 2006. She is co-editor, with Peter C. Smith, of The Oxford Handbook of Health Economics, which was published by the Oxford University Press in 2011.

      Glied holds a B.A. in economics from Yale University, an M.A. in economics from the University of Toronto, and a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.


    • January 10, 2020 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

      In the final weeks of 2019, Congress passed a significant piece of legislation, and the president signed the bipartisan bill into law Dec. 30, 2019: the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency Act of 2019, or the GREAT Act, which will modernize federal grant reporting.

      If your organization is one of the recipients or grantees of the more than $700 billion in annual financial assistance from the federal government, this will impact you. Chances are the GREAT Act will affect you and how your agency, institution, or research lab reports information back to the federal government.

      We’ve been following the GREAT Act closely and are here to help answer your questions surrounding the legislation. Check out the Q&A of what you need to know now—and also what’s next for the GREAT Act, when the president signs it into law as expected.

      What is the GREAT Act?

      Federal grants touch nearly every American through grant programs that provide free or reduced school lunches, equip our police and fire departments, build and maintain our highways and transportation infrastructure, support small businesses, and much, much more.

      The GREAT Act is intended to:

      • Modernize grant reporting by developing government-wide data standards for information reported by grant recipients.
      • Reduce federal grant recipients’ reporting burden and compliance costs by increasing automation and applying new technologies.
      • Increase transparency and strengthen federal agencies’ oversight and management of federal grants by requiring the publication of recipient-reported data collected from all agencies on a single public website.

      “We named it the GREAT Act for a reason,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said when she introduced the bill in 2017. “The results of the passage will be great for stakeholders, government agencies, job creators, grantees, and grantors.”

      It is designed to standardize a data structure for the information that recipients must report to federal agencies and to streamline the federal grant reporting process.

      “Without updating the way we process grant reports, in many ways we might as well be still operating with a typewriter and a fax machine and Wite-Out,” Foxx said.

      What do I need to do to prepare for the GREAT Act?

      Based on my experience in implementing the DATA Act—the GREAT Act’s predecessor that requires financial data to be standardized, machine-readable, and transparent—here are three initial steps you can take to be proactive:

      1. Establish a core team responsible for implementation: Identifying the people at your organization who will closely track and be held accountable for implementing the act is your first step. While the key stakeholders in your organization will likely change over time, you need to identify those who will be most operationally affected by the act—this includes everyone from grant administrators to systems/IT owners to program staff.
      2. Engage in developing the data standards: The GREAT Act requires the standard setters to consult with key stakeholders, including states, local governments, and federal agencies. It is important that you and your team stay up-to-date with the latest proposals and provide feedback to prevent burdensome or less than ideal standards. Put simply, now is your chance to shape the future of federal grant reporting.
      3. Conduct an audit of your data and processes: As I mentioned earlier, it is highly unlikely that what you are required to report and/or collect will change substantially. Right now is a good time to identify process inefficiencies, data quality issues, and duplicative efforts. You can start by conducting a simple inventory of the data you submit and/or collect for federal award reporting.

      When taking these first steps, be sure to take an incremental approach. Let’s face it: change is hard. Do the easiest and smallest things first to make meaningful progress. Also, truly look at this as an opportunity to modernize and leverage the GREAT Act as a catalyst to push forward data and efficiency initiatives that may have stalled out in the past.

      How will the GREAT Act impact my current reporting process?

      You probably won’t experience a great deal of change right away, as the act requires the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the designated “standard-setting agency”—likely the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—to develop data standards over the course of the next two years. Once the standards are set, federal grant-making agencies have one year to adopt the standards and issue guidance to recipients for all future information collection requests.

      As mentioned above, you can take this time to implement new best practices that improve processes across the board, so you can not only be fully prepared for when the effective date arrives, but also take advantage of the new efficiencies in advance.

      The law’s provisions require the new data standards be nonproprietary, machine-readable, and be in line with existing machine-readable data standards, including standards set under the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 used for USAspending.gov reporting.

      If you are a grant recipient, what you report will likely not change substantially, but how you report will change in ways you might not have expected. More on those in the next section.

      What are the benefits to the GREAT Act?

      Some of the benefits to reporting organizations include a reduction in redundant reporting, potential for automated validation of a report’s completeness, automated delivery, and if you’re a high-performing organization, faster recognition of your excellent performance.

      First benefit: Grant recipients may need to report less data. Recipients will be required to submit data in a machine-readable format, meaning that just sending PDFs will no longer be acceptable. Federal agencies will leverage technology to automate and streamline reporting processes, so recipients would report data only once, and federal agencies would use it multiple times.

      Second benefit: Federal agencies can make more informed decisions when awarding grants. That’s a huge advantage if you are a recipient that consistently receives a clean audit opinion—chances are you will have greater access to federal grant dollars. The GREAT Act simplifies the current single audit reporting by requiring the gold mine of single audit data to be reported in an electronic format consistent with the data standards established under the act.

      But if your single audit reports identify material weaknesses and repeat findings year after year, right now is a good time to get your house in order if you want to keep receiving federal funds.

      What are the important dates I need to know for the GREAT Act?

      Keep in mind this general timeline:

      • Within two years: The federal government must set data standards.
      • Within three years: Once the standards are established, federal agencies will have one year to adhere to the standards, publish guidance to recipients, and explore modern technologies in reporting related to federal awards. In addition, OMB must issue guidance requiring single audit information to be reported in an electronic form consistent with the data standards.
      • Within five years: Once the standards are set and adopted, the federal government must publish the federal award information on a public website.

      Where can I go for more information?

      Our team at Workiva is committed to keeping you informed on the significant news related to the GREAT Act, whether you are a recipient, auditor, or federal grant-making agency. The Data Coalition, America’s premier voice on data policy, is another great resource for staying up-to-date. Check out the Data Coalition website, and subscribe to their newsletter.

      Editor’s note: This blog has been updated and was originally published on December 20, 2019, at workiva.com.


    • December 23, 2019 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

      In 2019, tremendous bipartisan efforts led to new federal data laws, progress on legislation that may become law in 2020, and gains inside the Executive Branch for implementing strategies to make government data more accessible and useable. Amidst a backdrop of hyper-partisanship and political turmoil in Washington, DC, the bipartisan approach for improving the federal government’s data policies cannot be understated.

      Here are a few highlights from the past 12 months on areas of success for Data Coalition priorities:

      • New Law Enacted with Comprehensive Data Governance Framework. In January 2019, the President signed the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act), which includes the OPEN Government Data Act and the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act. The Data Coalition lobbied for the successful passage of this legislation that contains half of the recommendations made by the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking and overhauls the federal government’s data infrastructure to prioritize data governance and management. The law also established a new c-suite role at each federal agency — the chief data officer — and recognizes new leadership roles for evaluation and statistics. Congress even included additional funding in the final FY 2020 appropriations at the Data Coalition’s request to support implementation efforts.
      • Unanimous Congressional Approval of Grant Modernization. In December 2019, Congress unanimously passed the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements (GREAT) Act; it is expected to be signed by the President soon.  The bill amends existing law to transform federal grant reporting for the modern era by directing federal agencies to improve and streamline how information is collected and used.
      • Advancement of Processes for Innovative Data Applications in Government. While more than 50 bills related to artificial intelligence are under consideration in Congress, the Data Coalition’s priority the AI in Government Act advanced through committees in both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support. The bill will establish processes and guidance for responsibly and ethically applying AI across government.
      • Progress on Ensuring an Accurate 2020 Census. In 2019, Congress provided additional funding to support the Census Bureau’s herculean count of the American population in 2020, and with the endorsement of the Data Coalition, a bipartisan resolution rapidly progressed in the Senate to promote an effective census.
      • Renewed Dialogue and Enthusiasm for Entity Identification in the U.S. Through the Data Coalition’s advocacy efforts, a new conversation is underway in Congress about the strategy for adopting legal entity identifiers in the country’s financial services sector. The Financial Transparency Act was refiled earlier this year with a senior Democratic and senior Republican co-sponsoring the legislation.
      • Development of the Federal Data Strategy and 1-Year Action Plan. The White House finalized its Federal Data Strategy, including activities in partnership with the Data Coalition, outlining an implementation strategy for the Evidence Act, support for AI research, and an enhanced governance framework that will continue to be a priority in coming years.

       

      Other Data Coalition priorities are also advancing as work proceeds to establish a federal data service, Congress considers the Taxpayer Right to Know Act developing program inventories, the National Security Commission on AI produces its final recommendations, the Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building is established and begins to deliberate, and as our country’s lawmakers consider reforms through the Select Committee on Modernization of Congress.  

      In short, the Data Coalition’s advocacy efforts paid off tremendously this year – and are continuing to accrue benefits – for the American people and our society. Through nearly 100 briefings on key policy priorities, the GovDATAx Summit, and countless other activities this year that bring together the corners of the data community, the Data Coalition’s members and expertise achieved real and lasting headway for the country.

      In 2020 and beyond, as agencies work to implement the Evidence Act, the GREAT Act, and more, the Data Coalition members and staff will continue to serve as a resource to hold government accountable for effective implementation while also devising strategies for continuous improvement. The moment for more meaningfully transforming government data into a strategic asset is upon us and we hope the continued enthusiasm and support for the Data Coalition’s efforts will sustain this momentum in the coming years. More importantly, have confidence that in 2020 conversations about better using government data as an asset will continue to bring together Republicans and Democrats as we work to achieve common goals for improving society and meeting the needs of the American people.


    • December 09, 2019 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

      The United States government is rapidly progressing in implementing new laws and guidance on evidence-based policymaking, data-driven government, and open data. During the Data Coalition’s GovDATAx Summit in 2019, Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary Karen Dunn Kelley suggested a metaphorical book on evidence-based policymaking for the U.S. is being written, with new chapters every year. In chapter 1 in 2017, the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking wrote a seminal report on better using government data. In Chapter 2 in 2018, Congress passed the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act), and in Chapter 3 the Executive Branch published its Federal Data Strategy.

      What’s the next chapter? 

      Data Coalition members met with senior leadership at the Department of Commerce to discuss Chapter 4 leading into 2020 and beyond. In addition, groups like Project Evident, the Brookings Institution, and the University of Chicago’s Center for Impact Sciences are all developing plans for the next generation of evidence-based policymaking.

      Key aspects and inputs for the next chapter will include:

      • The one-year action plan for the Federal Data Strategy expected to be released in mid-December, which serves as one of the implementation vehicles for the Evidence Act.
      • Recommendations developed by the new Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence-Building hosted at the Department of Commerce, which will begin meeting in early 2020.
      • Plans to develop a national Data Service to promote privacy-protective uses of data and applications of cutting-edge technologies inside government, building on funding expected to be included in the final fiscal year 2020 appropriations.
      • Publication of agency draft plans and policies for implementing key provisions of the Evidence Act, including some signals as early as February 2020 in the President’s Budget.

      Needless to say, there is much work to do to ensure our government increasingly adopts evidence-based and data-driven approaches.

      What can those outside government do to support evidence-based policymaking?

      As the next chapter of the evidence and data movement is written, stakeholders in non-profits, academia, and the private sector can all contribute. Action items could include:

      • Offer Proactive Suggestions. For agencies that work on priority issue areas, provide suggestions about critical datasets, gaps in data quality, needed data standards, or programs that should be evaluated. Suggestions can be provided directly to new chief data officers, evaluation officers, and statistical officials in federal agencies, even before they are requested.
      • Express Support. As work continues to change agency cultures to better recognize government data as an asset, agency leadership will benefit from sustained reminders and expressions of support from non-governmental stakeholders about the need to prioritize implementation of the Evidence Act and the Federal Data Strategy.
      • Participate in Implementation. As agencies begin to publish learning agendas, plans for open data, data governance processes, and budgets that outline how data management activities will be prioritized, stakeholders outside government should actively participate by providing feedback on the plans and policies.

      As the federal government continues to improve data quality, access, and ease of use, the Data Coalition will continue to support its members in engaging in each of the action items as the next chapter is written, and beyond.



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