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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Evidence-Based Legislating

Many posts have discussed declines in congressional capacity.

Denise Baer at
The members of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress have been called “superheroes” for their strong bipartisan recommendations by Bruce Patton of the Rebuild Congress Initiative and Bradford Fitch of the Congressional Management Foundation.
But if the current efforts to modernize and strengthen Congress to fulfill its constitutional role as a co-equal branch are to succeed, Congress’ gap as the missing link in results-based government also needs to be addressed.
Congress has enacted over a dozen laws strengthening executive branch capacity since 1993. Yet the Foundations of Evidence-based Policymaking Act of 2018 (and its predecessor Commission) which requires federal agencies to revamp their approach to evaluation and evidence building from an “ad hoc” activity to a process fully integrated into ongoing operations had not one recommendation for Congress.
Unlike earlier reform eras, the past 25 years have not seen major congressional reforms to bolster Congress’ role in results-based government. Instead in 1995, at the start of this era, Congress paradoxically defunded the one congressional unit explicitly designed to analyze and assess scientific evidence – the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).
Our national legislature needs skills in interpretation and analysis using a range of information —from program evaluations, systematic reviews, and assessments rating the strength of evidence— to performance audits and performance data collected to measure progress toward achieving an agency’s established mission or program-related goals or objectives. The evidence base is cumulative and decisionmakers also should consider additional studies drawn from science and social science.