op-ed

Government Officials Want More Data Collection. Time To Say ‘Thanks But No Thanks’

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Foundations for Evidence-based Policy-making Act (FEPA). The aim of the FEPA legislation is to “establish a more secure, transparent, and efficient data system that will help federal agencies better assess the effectiveness of their programs.” According to a report by Federal News Radio, this will be accomplished by “requiring each agency to name a chief data officer and a chief evaluation officer.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) are two of the bill’s chief proponents. Ryan’s website reports the bill will ensure “maximum data availability while respecting privacy and national security concerns, instructs federal agencies to establish a data inventory and federal data catalogue” and “expands access to data while improving privacy standards.”

U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) claims FEPA “does not create a federal data base, does not collect federal data in one place,” and “does not authorize any new data analysis” — thus making the whole “federal data catalogue” curious. Ensuring “maximum data availability” and “improve[ing] privacy standards” is an ambitious goal that I don’t believe is possible for the federal government. It’s simply too big, too corrupt and too poorly managed to be able to do both. And even it could, why would the American people want it to?

“The federal government spends billions on programs, yet often lacks the evidence needed to determine whether these programs are working as intended or how they could be improved,” wrote Katharine G. Abraham, a co-chairperson of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative. “Evidence-based policymaking — making better use of data and rigorous program evaluation to inform government decision-making — holds the key to driving government programs to be more effective.”

First of all, thank you, Ms. Abraham, for acknowledging government blows our hard-earned tax dollars willy-nilly on programs about which no one knows the value. Secondly, how can you admit such a thing with nary a bat on the eye then go on to tell us we need government to do more? Why would I trust a bunch of administrators and policymakers who spend billions while lacking “the evidence needed to determine whether these programs are working as intended” to take my personal data and use it responsibly?

Further, a reasonable person would question whether most government programs are worthwhile to begin with. If we don’t even know whether they’re working (they probably aren’t), then if they were to disappear, would anyone miss them? Shouldn’t government officials be sure they can properly judge a program’s value before committing billions of dollars toward it?

It seems government’s motto has been, “When in doubt, spend now, evaluate later.” Lawmakers are in the habit of playing fast and loose with other people’s money, patting themselves on the back when a program is a “success” (again, is there such a thing?) and shrugging it off when a program crashes and burns — if, that is, they even bother to take the time to find out if it’s working. Abraham suggests they usually don’t.

Parents are upset about this bill, as all citizens should be. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy sent a letter to the Commission on Evidence-Based Policy-making in 2016 stating their opposition to “any proposal that would lead to the creation of a central federal clearinghouse or linked data sets containing the personally identifiable information of all students, commonly referred to as a federal student unit-record system or national database.” Yet two more bills intended to collect additional information about children, the Student Privacy Protection Act and the College Transparency Act, are also pending in Congress.

This legislation is an overreach of government, an invasion of privacy and pointless. Government has spent billions on programs without knowing their effect before they had this data, and now we’re supposed to believe that armed with access to “maximum data availability” the bureaucrats will suddenly start using our money sensibly?

Thanks, but no thanks, federal government. You can keep your programs, and we’ll keep our data to ourselves.

Teresa Mull ([email protected]) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.