Commission Report Won’t Address Foundations Of Evidence-Based Policymaking
Tomorrow, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing to review the recommendations of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. That Commission issued a report earlier this month, called The Promise of Evidence-Based Policymaking.
Evidence-based policymaking sounds great, doesn’t it?
When I think of evidence and government policy, I think of two issues: Climate and counterterrorism. There’s mountains of evidence that global climate change is causing serious problems and is caused by human beings. The available evidence also shows that terrorism in the United States is an extremely minor problem, compared to other threats to Americans’ well-being.
Yet, counterterrorism has its own dedicated cabinet department, and the Republican leaders of the federal government keep denying that anthropogenic climate change even exists.
I would think that a report on issues in evidence-based policymaking would discuss these two grave examples of the gap between evidence and policy. However, the Commission’s report includes not one mention of either climate change or terrorism.
An apologist for the Commission might say that the report’s scope didn’t include exploration of particular issues. However, the Commission’s report did in fact include “numerous examples of important questions that individuals who provided input to the Commission reported cannot currently be adequately addressed because of difficulty accessing the right data”.
These examples covered relatively minor areas such as the Farm Service Agency, Supplemental Security Income, and the Appalachian Regional Commission. Larger, more troublesome policy areas were not included for consideration, even though decisions regarding them have much greater impact.
This gap in the Commission’s report is a consequence of the Commission members’ narrowness of vision, and a decision to allow ideological considerations to overrule the evidence. It seems that the Commission decided to discuss only relatively non-controversial government programs, so as not to ruffle feathers. In doing so, the Commission repeated the dysfunction of the federal government, rather than critically examining it.
The biggest obstacles to evidence-based policymaking, after all, don’t come from a lack of data. The data that the government already has available to it is being purposefully ignored.
What’s more, the Commission’s report advises that Americans’ privacy be compromised in the name of enhanced data analysis, writing that “access to confidential data for evidence-building purposes should be increased”. The Commission encourages the development of provisions to minimize privacy violations, but as recent, large-scale hacks of supposedly secure governmental and corporate data systems have shown, increasing access means compromised security. We have ample evidence that currently available privacy safeguards are insufficient.
I know that data collection and analytics are in fashion. However, given that our government isn’t appropriately using the data that’s already available to it, there isn’t much point in giving it access to yet more data, much less confidential information.
Until we have a government that is willing to work with the rather remarkable evidence related to policymaking that it already possesses, there can be no evidence-based justification for expanded intrusion into Americans’ private lives.