This proposal would place a renewed emphasis on experimentation, rigorous analysis, and the use of hard evidence in policymaking.
Both policymakers and researchers have an interest in understanding the impact of government programs. More data is critical to answering important questions: Do these programs work? Are there unintended consequences? With today’s more sophisticated computing technology, data-collection and -storage capabilities, researchers could link data on anonymous individuals across multiple data sources. Unfortunately, these data sources are usually off limits to policymakers or researchers.
- Greater Accountability: This proposal would create a commission of leading economists, statisticians, program administrators, and privacy experts to advise Congress on:
- Whether and how to create a Clearinghouse for Program and Survey Data. The clearinghouse, if established, would facilitate the merging of data on government programs with other administrative data so researchers could link anonymous participants across programs (such as unemployment-insurance records) and to respondents in surveys and thereby provide a more complete picture of program take-up, duration, benefits received, program impact, and other key pieces of information. In addition to programmatic data at the federal level, the commission would also consider the inclusion of state, local, and even educational datasets, such as the National Student Clearinghouse.
- How to ensure that this data matching would not compromise the privacy rights of program participants or survey respondents.
- How to fund the Clearinghouse without adding to the federal budget deficit (such as through user fees for participating academic and other research institutions).
- How to bolster the study of economic mobility by considering ways to improve and expand access to longitudinal data. This could include improvements in linking parents and children within datasets to facilitate intergenerational studies as well as linking datasets (such as the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and National Longitudinal Survey of Youth) to outside administrative sources.
- How best to incorporate outcomes measurement and institutionalize randomized controlled trials into program design.
Poverty is a very complex problem, and Washington doesn’t have all the answers. This paper is not meant to serve as the final word, but to start a conversation all across the country. Anyone with questions or comments about this proposal can contact the committee at ExpandingOpportunity@mail.house.gov.
By opening up the debate, we hope to help the best ideas prevail and to empower our communities to expand opportunity in America.