Congressional Leaders Murray and Ryan Introduce Bill Promoting Evidence-Based Policymaking

By Steve Pierson posted 12-10-2014 09:32


[4/9/16 Update: Everything you need to know about the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, Justin Milner, Urban Institute, April 6, 2016.

3/31/16 Update: The President signed the Ryan-Murray Commission Act into law 3/30/16:

3/18/16 Update: Senate passes the H.R.1831 - Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016. The House passed its version of the bill last summer so House can pass Senate-version of the bill in order to send it to the President, or the House and Senate can further reconcile differences.]


U.S. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D., Wash.) and U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.), according to a November 20 press release, introduced a bill "to establish a 15-member commission to study how best to expand the use of data to evaluate the effectiveness of federal programs and tax expenditures." Statistics is included as one of the disciplines to be represented on the commission because of its relevance to program evaluation and program management.

With the 113th Congress set to adjourn within days, there will be no action on the bill in this Congress but the bill is expected to be introduced in the 114th Congress.

H.R. 5754, the "Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2014," recognizes randomized control trials as an important tool in its Study of Data Section (4a):

Study of Data.--The Commission shall conduct a comprehensive
study of the data inventory, data infrastructure, and statistical
protocols related to Federal policymaking and the statistical and
programmatic agencies responsible for maintaining that data to--
            (1) determine the optimal arrangement for which
        administrative data on Federal programs and tax expenditures
        and related data series may be integrated and made available to
        facilitate program evaluation, policy-relevant research, and
        cost-benefit analyses by qualified researchers and
            (2) make recommendations on how data infrastructure and
        protocols should be modified to best fulfill the objectives
        identified in paragraph (1); and
            (3) make recommendations on how best to incorporate
        outcomes measurement, institutionalize randomized controlled
        trials, and rigorous impact analysis into program design.

Many welcomed the Murray-Ryan bill. The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne said the bill "could, and should, encourage both sides to begin their arguments by asking the right questions", adding readers "should want government programs to achieve what they set out to do" and this age of Big Data, there are more metrics than ever to allow you to have a clear sense of how well they are working.

Also, credit Murray and Ryan for this: They are looking not only at whether programs live up to their billing but also at whether the various tax breaks Congress has enacted — they are worth about $1 trillion a year — bring about the results their sponsors claim they will. If we are ever to reform the tax system, it would be useful to know which deductions, exemptions and credits are worth keeping." 

The Urban Institute's Margery Turner called it "music to my ears" noting the Urban Institute's belief "in the power of evidence to improve lives and strengthen communities. Public policies work best when they are rooted in facts, and solid research can spark solutions in programs and practice."

[1/7/15 update: Patty Murray’s and Paul Ryan’s teamwork is a model for Congress, Editorial, Seattle Times, 12/12/14.]

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