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How the Evidence Act Will Enhance Policy Decisions

February 9, 2023

Over the past decade, many bills introduced to Congress have faced an uphill battle given the staunch partisan divide that exists in American politics. An important exception is the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) which received unanimous support in the Senate and strong bi-partisan support in the House (356-17) before being signed into law by President Trump in January 2019. Further, following the switch in administrations, President Biden affirmed dedication to the Act by issuing memoranda which establish task forces and outline strategies to accelerate progress.

The Evidence Act aims to improve and enhance how the federal government makes evidence-based policy decisions in two primary ways. First, the Act establishes a Chief Evaluation Officer within each federal agency to oversee and coordinate the use of data and evidence in policymaking, with required annual reports identifying progress toward the Act’s goals. Second, the Act also establishes the OPEN Government Data Act, which requires agencies to make their non-sensitive data available to the public and to establish a repository to house that data. These two changes can lead to some significant improvements in policymaking and the fields of Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation. Here are three:

1. The Evidence Act improves efficiency in the research/policy process. By removing barriers to acquiring and analyzing data, the Evidence Act is essentially democratizing data, given that acquiring access to restricted data is costly in terms of both time and money. With agency data readily available, more people including researchers, policymakers, and practitioners can put it to use. This direct-to-source accessibility will improve people’s ability to access and collate a range of data, from something as straightforward as reporting how many children are utilizing the U.S. public education system to more complex analyses, such as exploring the effectiveness of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) on reducing evictions. This accessibility will enable researchers to explore a wider array of research topics. This increased availability and access to data may also encourage researchers to explore heterogeneity across subgroups of individuals who are more impacted by different policies (e.g., low-income, BIPOC, women, LGBTQ+, etc.).

2. The Evidence Act creates more opportunities for agencies and other stakeholders to look and learn beyond their silos. Firms like Abt, which already partners with many federal government agencies—including the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Labor—will be able to further pursue and leverage data across silos, enabling us all to see the bigger picture.  Which leads to my third point…

3. The Evidence Act expands the capacity for interdisciplinary researchers to address complex policy problems. The increased focus on evidence-based policy decisionmaking expands opportunities for different types of researchers and evaluators to tackle problems from different angles. Collaboration by both qualitative and quantitative researchers as well as those from different content areas across the biological, physical, and social sciences will allow for an interdisciplinary lens for analyzing and addressing policy decisions more holistically.

Taken together, these improvements reinforce the focus on making policy decisions on the bases of science and data. Looking toward the future, with the Evidence Act establishing a concrete commitment to data- and evidence-driven changemaking at the national level, time will tell if lower levels of government follow suit adopting similar evidence-based decision making. Regardless, as the access to data grows, so will the opportunities to develop meaningful solutions for those who most need them.

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