During a recent committee hearing about evidence-based policy making on Capitol Hill, Congress was shocked to hear what many Americans already assumed. “Most of the nation’s social programs produce modest or no impacts on the problems they were meant to address.”
In September, the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission released areport documenting the value of good information when making public policy. The commission spent over a year gathering and analyzing data that would ultimately be provided in a report of recommendations urging Congress to use evidence and data to help create better public policy.
In a world where technology drives business innovation, it is unfortunate the federal government has not been able to catch up. Many Members of Congress go home to their districts or states and see what problems are affecting their constituents, but far too often they try to fix a problem without researching or learning more. The intentions are without a doubt good, but without evidence or data involved in their decisions, they are just throwing tax dollars at a problem hoping for a solution.
Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s (Moneyball) made analytics in baseball a necessity. Now major sports leagues cannot live without it. Of course there is some human element involved, but the risk of a player, or program, shrinks dramatically when coupled with intuitive data. That is what the the Evidence Based Policy Making Commission was commissioned to do, analyze data that could in turn be used to make smart policy decisions.
The hearing provided helpful insight to these ideas including one colorful exchange between a Congressman and Mr. Robert Shea, a commissioner on the Evidence-Based Policy Making Commission. The Representative asked, “In your experience, government agencies and programs don’t have clear goals for what they’re trying to accomplish?” To which Mr. Shea replied, “In many cases they don’t.”
Dr. Ron Haskins, a Co-Chair on the commission also added that when government watchdogs first started conducting audits of government social programs, they determined “about 85% of them failed to produce a major impact.” Mr. Haskins continued, expressing that he doesn’t think anyone “seriously questions that social programs don’t work.”
Hearing Mr. Haskins and his panel of experts agree has got to make you wonder, “If the scientific and data community can make these conclusions in little time, how has Congress not used this data to make significant changes to the programs it authorizes year in and year out over the past 50 years?”
Social programs and the agencies that administer them are, of course, not the only problem within the federal government. American infrastructure lacks prioritization, the Pentagon has been unable to pass an audit for two decades, there are trillions worth of loopholes in our tax code that must be closed, and improper payments total in the hundreds of billions.
While boasting about creating new programs and new laws is what Congress does best, Congress routinely ignores one of their constitutional duties, oversight. If we want our government to be more effective and efficient, Congress should work to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent with the utmost care. That means utilizing data and setting metrics.
Front offices in sports organizations rely more and more on analytics and “evidence” to make decisions about their teams. Congress should implore similar tactics by using fact driven solutions, along with other data, to create policy that works for all Americans. By doing so Congress will not only make government programs better and more efficient, but will also reduce the debt burden we place on future generations.