Realizing the American Idea through Evidence-Based Policymaking | Speaker.gov

One of Speaker Ryan’s top priorities has been to fight poverty at its root causes and restore the American Idea. And to understand how to get there, we need better data. Today, as part of a bipartisan effort, we move one step closer to that goal with a groundbreaking report: The Promise of Evidence-Based Policymaking.

Let’s start in March 2016, when a bipartisan bill introduced by Speaker Ryan and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)—the Evidence-Based Policy Commission Act—became law. Its mission was clear: Develop a strategy that allows the government to better evaluate the effectiveness of social programs through quality, accessible data.

In other words: Make sure the tools exist to gauge whether these programs are working.

What should be the government’s goal? We want to lift people out of poverty, not keep them there. Too often, Washington rewards effort—like enrollment numbers—instead of results. As it currently stands, we don’t have a reliable way to measure whether programs, like TANF or Medicaid, are actually putting people on the road to independence. In truth, the fact that 43 percent of Americans raised in the lowest income bracket are still poor as adults may tell us all we need to know. The status quo is not working. 

Enter the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. Speaker Ryan recently discussed its efforts during a CNN town hall:

"What I think we need to do is change our approach on fighting poverty instead of measuring success based on how much money we spend or how many programs we create or how many people are on those programs, you know, measuring on inputs. Let's measure success in poverty on outcomes. Is it working? Are people getting out of poverty?  

“And what I believe, when you look at it that way—actually, I have a commission that Patty Murray and I set up that's underway right now to focus on these measurements."

Out today, the commission’s final report recommends what Speaker Ryan has long argued for: a transparent, efficient, and well-designed data system that is both accessible by federal agencies and secure for those who contribute. Here are some key takeaways from the report:

  • Security, Privacy, and Confidentiality: The report outlines recommendations for improving access to data that protects peoples’ privacy without sacrificing the information sought in the process. The commission also outlines protections to modernize the process. This means Americans enrolled in government programs can maintain their privacy while benefitting the greater goal.
  • Modernizing Data Infrastructure: The commission recommends building upon and enhancing the expertise and infrastructure to ensure secure record linkage and data access. This would increase transparency and better enable policymakers—and the public—to hold government programs accountable.
  • Strengthened Capacity: Privacy and accessibility are key, but so is ensuring the evidence-building community has the manpower it needs. By establishing administrative and program requirements within the federal government, evidence-based efforts will become a central part of both evaluating current programs and policies of the future.

With these recommendations, the government can curate a more thorough, accurate pool of information that reflects what our social programs actually look like in practice. This line of thought could alter the way government productivity is measured entirely. Imagine: a government more focused on realizing the American Idea instead of reaching arbitrary enrollment goals.

Evidence-based policymaking sounds a bit dry, but it marks a huge sea change in the way we solve problems. It would confirm what’s working and weed out what isn’t. And while good intentions are, well, good, they simply aren’t enough. There must be hard evidence that government assistance programs are helping get people out of poverty—and The Promise of Evidence-Based Policymaking is a step in the right direction.

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DON’T MISS IT: Speaker Ryan will join Senator Murray and the commissioners for the final report’s release today at 3:30 p.m. ET. Watch on speaker.gov/live.