Last Thursday afternoon, the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (the “Commission”) held a press conference to present their final recommendations aimed at simultaneously improving the availability of rigorous evidence to inform policymaking and the security of citizens’ private, personal information. As Katharine Abraham, chairperson of the Commission said, “We think we can have our cake and eat it too.”
Established through the bipartisan collaboration of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the Commission engaged in 18 months of fact finding, public testimony, and deliberations. The Commission’s 138-page report highlights the enormous benefits of data sharing and integration. It includes 22 key recommendations in four areas.
Improving secure, private, and confidential data access
The Commission proposes that Congress and the President enact legislation to create a National Secure Data Service (NSDS), a gateway for researchers to temporarily link and analyze federal administrative data across agencies. As part of their attention to privacy concerns, the Commission stresses that access to data through the NSDS would be for approved research and statistical purposes only. They also make recommendations around increasing access to certain important data points at the Federal level, including state-collected quarterly earnings data.
Modernizing privacy protections for evidence building
The Commission’s suggestions for the use and handling of de-identified data include the public release of comprehensive risk assessments and the modernization of encryption methods. Their report also highlights secure remote access approaches used by the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, the Federal Statistical Research Data Center at Census, and related international efforts, like France’s CASD (Secure Data Access Centre).
Implementing the National Secure Data Service (NSDS)
In addition to emphasizing the need to do this work in a way that protects sensitive private information, the Commission’s report equally stresses the importance of transparency around this effort to build public confidence and ensure ethical uses in service of the public good.
Strengthening federal evidence-building capacity
The Commission recommends that Congress and the President should ensure Federal departments are provided with adequate resources to support evidence-building activities and develop multi-year learning agendas. They suggest that efforts could be led by Chief Evaluation Officers within each department and coordinated through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
In March of 2017, AISP released reports on the results of four expert panels tasked with documenting best practices around developing state and local systems for integrating government data. These reports considered many of the same issues as the Commission, addressing parallel concerns around data access and security from the state and local perspective. The Commission’s recommendations align closely with our expert panels’ findings, particularly in their assertion that increased access to data and increased personal privacy are not mutually exclusive. Much like the Commission’s proposed NSDS would do at the federal level, the AISP expert panels recommended the creation of state and local record linkage centers that would temporarily and securely link encrypted data for approved research projects, accessed and analyzed through a remote access system.
AISP contributed public comment and expert testimony during the Commission’s inquiry process, and we are pleased to see many of AISP’s values and experiences reflected in these recommendations.