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  • July 29, 2020 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

    The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee reported the bipartisan CFO Vision Act of 2020 (S. 3287) favorably to the Senate floor last Wednesday, July 22. Now the bill awaits a vote by the entire body. 

    This bill would standardize and clarify the roles of agency Chief Financial Officers (CFO) across the government, which were first created by the 1990 CFO Act. It also would require CFOs to coordinate with other senior personnel such as the Chief Data Officer, Chief Evaluation Officer, and Chief Information Officer. It would also require agencies to submit performance-based financial management metrics to the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and Congress.  

    This is a significant step forward in improving the government’s financial management. Open and transparent data about how agencies allocate resources is a foundational part of accountable government. Congress has taken meaningful steps forward in modernizing the way spending information is collected, reported, and published. Legislation like the DATA Act and GREAT Act aims to strengthen federal agencies’ oversight and management of spending data. The CFO Vision Act furthers these goals by modernizing and clarifying the responsibilities of the CFO and thereby delivering accountability to the public. This effort is an important step forward in using data to improve the government’s financial performance and accountability. The need for these improvements has never been more clear, as CFOs will have an important role in the oversight and implementation of COVID-relief spending. 

    The Data Coalition is pleased to see this bill attract strong bipartisan support from both chambers of Congress. We urge Congress to continue to work to improve financial data and government accountability.


  • July 17, 2020 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

    The Data Coalition sent the following letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, along with key officials at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding the updated guidance issued on July 10th for hospitals reporting COVID-19-related administrative records.

    The letter outlines the Data Coalition’s concerns regarding data quality and transparency with the new reporting process. Our letter also asked for clarification on the updated guidance and how it will align with expectations for agencies communicated in 2019 from OMB in the principles of the Federal Data Strategy.

    The Data Coalition supports efforts to increase the capabilities of federal agencies to produce high quality, accessible, and useable, but in such a way that also builds transparency and public trust.

    The full text of the letter follows.

    July 17, 2020 

    Secretary Azar, 

    On July 10, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued updated guidance for hospitals reporting COVID-19-related administrative records. The guidance directs hospitals to report information about testing, capacity, and patient flows directly to HHS using a new contractor, circumventing historic practice for such data collection to occur within the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). For many stakeholders, the HHS guidance raises questions about the data quality and transparency with the new reporting process, which could have implications for accessibility and use of the data. In addition, the publication of the guidance appears to not fully align with expectations for agencies communicated in 2019 from the Director of the White House of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the principles for the Federal Data Strategy.

    HHS’s approach for daily data collection and systems management during an ongoing pandemic must ensure relevant data will continue to be accessible for researchers and organizations supporting the response, while also remaining transparent to the American people with appropriate open data. Consistent with the Federal Data Strategy’s principle of transparency, the Data Coalition calls on HHS to provide additional details to the American public about the intent, role, and purpose of the modified approach for data collection and publication of critical COVID-19 hospital data. In particular, as Practice #30 of the strategy encourages, HHS should promote public trust with transparency in communicating how data will be used. HHS should also articulate how the Department applied the principle of responsiveness for gathering and incorporating stakeholder feedback on this shift in reporting. 

    HHS’s limitations in data sharing capabilities are not new, are widely documented, and pose practical limitations for ensuring researchers have access to needed, relevant information to support COVID-19 responses. HHS’s Chief Data Officer, the Director of the National Center for Health Statistics, and other data leaders across the agency must effectively collaborate to support realistic data governance for the agency’s data, as expected in the bipartisan Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018, directed under the Federal Data Strategy, and specified in HHS’s Data Strategy.

    On behalf of the Data Coalition’s members, we look forward to supporting HHS in continually strengthening the Department’s capabilities for producing high-quality, accessible, and useful data. But in this work, transparency and public trust are essential; we strongly encourage HHS to take deliberate steps to maximize the application of these principles moving forward and to address current concerns for the new guidance. 

    Respectfully, 


    Nick Hart, Ph.D.

    CEO, Data Coalition

     

    CC: 

    Russell Vought, Acting OMB Director

    Paul Ray, OMB/OIRA Administrator

    Eric Hargan, HHS Deputy Secretary


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

    The CARES Act established the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), along with several other oversight mechanisms. This body has an $80 million budget to help it oversee $2.4 trillion in economic relief to individuals, businesses, and health care providers in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The PRAC was modeled after the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, formed to oversee the funds associated with the 2008 financial crisis. Fortunately, the government’s ability to gather and publish spending data has greatly improved as a result of the 2008 crisis, due to the passage and implementation of laws like the DATA Act, the Evidence Act, and the GREAT Act. The Data Coalition sent the following letter, urging the PRAC to continue this momentum, and leverage existing data standards and practices to their, and society’s, advantage.  


    Dear Mr. Horowitz, 

    The Data Coalition, America’s premier voice on data policy, works with Congress and the Executive Branch to ensure responsible data policies for data to be open and accessible, in order to promote transparency and public trust. Open and transparent information about how agencies allocate resources is a pillar that supports accountable government, which in turn promotes public trust in our institutions. 

    The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act created vital transparency and reporting requirements that will mean intense coordination across the federal enterprise in order to manage the high volume of information required for effective oversight. The Data Coalition members strongly urge the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to use existing infrastructure and data analysis standards in order to quickly establish meaningful transparency for emergency spending associated with the country’s response to the pandemic. 

    An important part of this process will be to use existing federal data standards for the data fields agencies expect to collect, analyze, and publish in support of the PRAC’s statutory goals. This should include integrating agency reporting requirements required by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act of 2014, and the recently enacted Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act.  

    We also encourage the PRAC to, in partnership with agencies, invest in federal transparency platforms and data systems to meet the requirements in the CARES Act. As state governments and congressional leaders have also recommended, the PRAC should follow the past model of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which established a digital recipient reporting system that used standardized data to deliver accountability and transparency without imposing an undue burden on recipients of federal funding.

    By leveraging data resources thoughtfully and appropriately and building on existing transparency efforts, the PRAC will be able to improve oversight and the impact of the recovery funds. This serves the PRAC’s mission, bolsters transparency efforts already underway, and strengthens the ability of the American people to hold their government accountable. 

     

    Thank you for your consideration. 

     

    Respectfully, 

    Nicholas R. Hart, PhD

    CEO, Data Coalition


  • 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.



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