The Case for Evidence in Government – Doug Criscitello

Doug Criscitello, Executive Director of MIT’s Center for Finance and Policy

Doug Criscitello, Executive Director of MIT’s Center for Finance and Policy

From Government Executive

Although the U.S. government presides over what collectively must be one of the world’s largest data repositories, its capacity to use that data to build citizen trust and make informed, evidence-based decisions is severely constrained. As explained in an enlightening report recently issued by the bipartisan Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (CEP), the mere existence of data is a necessary but not sufficient condition for creating empirical evidence to inform decisions throughout the full lifecycle of public programs—enactment, funding, operation, reform, termination.

The digitization of many facets of various activities the government funds through its $4 trillion annual budget has resulted in a data explosion at federal agencies. But that data needs to be synthesized into actionable information to satisfy taxpayers’ demands for better results and greater transparency. The CEP report makes clear that much remains to be done to achieve that goal and provides a comprehensive plan to improve access to federal data, strengthen privacy protections and expand the public, private and academic research communities’ capacity to analyze data.

CEP provides an insightful list of recommendations such as establishing a National Secure Data Service to enable and leverage capabilities across government, addressing statutory impediments that obstruct smart data use, and streamlining processes used to grant researchers access to data. The report appropriately emphasizes strong privacy protections and advocates for comprehensive risk assessments for publicly released data and for the use of better technology and greater coordination across government. To prioritize efficient evidence building, CEP points out the need to coordinate statistical activities, evaluation and policy research within and between departments and across levels of government.

The report provides a critically needed blueprint for the development of a data analytics vision and strategy that is sorely lacking across government and within individual agencies, where the capacity to perform program performance assessments is uneven at best. CEP’s recommendations could not come at a better time given President Trump’s directive to agencies to identify ways to reorganize the executive branch—including program and agency eliminations—to improve efficiency, effectiveness and accountability. To realize that vision, agencies should be gathering statistically derived evidence, rather than basing decisions on gut instinct and intuition, to support their plans for re-imagining government.

Much has been made about the development of web-based portals (,,, providing citizens with direct access to government data. Those efforts are truly valuable and significantly enhance transparency and accountability by answering the whatwhere and when questions involving the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. The why and how well questions are more complex.

Read the full post at Government Executive.

Doug Criscitello is the Executive Director of MIT’s Center for Finance and Policy.

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